By Steev Riccardo
With all this talk about pizza being a vegetable and Congress voting down measures to make meals healthier in our schools, curiosity led me on a mission back to the high school cafeteria.
All the memories I had of eating in school cafeterias were from my high school days at the old Bartlett High School on Negus Street in Webster. These memories were all good, and honestly, I don’t remember the food being bad either, but then again, that was more than a few years ago.
And times have changed. There are a lot more preservatives, additives, and refined sugars in foods today. You really have to read the labels and when comes to what is being served to children in schools, you have to have faith that someone is getting it right and making sure that the kids are getting the nutrition they need.
I started looking at school menus and comparing them, but ultimately it seemed to make more sense to actually see the food and perhaps even try it. I contacted Brenda Ennis of the Oxford School Committee and she was kind enough to make the offer and asked me at which school in the district I would like to eat.
For some time now, I have wanted to drop in on my old friend and current Oxford High School principal Kevin Wells, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to do just that. Ms. Ennis set it all up and I was on my way to do the taste test.
Upon arriving at the school, I was greeted by Superintendent Allen Himmelberger, who added his thoughts on the latest developments in school food service. “The federal government runs a multimillion dollar food service program and because it is large and it’s federal, it’s subject to politics.”
Himmelberger explained that there has been a big push towards healthier eating, mostly because of obesity in children. “There is a large effort to combat some of the requirements from vested interests. What surfaced politically last week was that pizza could be counted as a vegetable if a certain amount of tomato paste was used, and so it gets pretty interesting.”
Interesting indeed, but wait a second, does anyone really consider tomato paste a vegetable? (Hold on, let me get a real expert on tomatoes on the phone. Mom? Hi how are you? Do you consider tomato paste a vegetable? “What is wrong with you, are you crazy or something Stevie?” Sorry Mom, have a nice day). I didn’t think so.
Himmelberger explained that this is all part of a regulatory song and dance. “I think a certain amount of regulation is required whenever there are federal dollars attached. We have to play by the rules but let’s make the rules fair and equitable for all.”
If you were wondering, like I was, Oxford High School does serve pizza on occasion, but it is not part of the regular rotation that meets the nutritional requirements. “They try and be creative with what they have to work with. The meals are healthy and right now that is the most important thing,” said Wells, who praised the efforts of the school cook Claire Harrington.
“I think that we provide a wide variety within the confines of what we have to operate and work with. I think our food service director has done a great job,” he said.
Wells also noted that the school has made lunch affordable for students who come from families that are dealing with low income. “The program is based on parental income and gives students the opportunity to get a free or reduced lunch. Some pay 25 cents, some get it free. It is part of the government’s ability to help out students that come from difficult financial situations.”
Students at Oxford High School can also take advantage of a breakfast program, which begins each day at 7 a.m. It’s also championed by Wells. “A lot of kids today don’t have breakfast at home for a multitude of reasons, so we offer to them before school starts.”
The lunch bell rang and the moment that I had anxiously waited for was here. “Wellsy,” whoops, sorry, Mr. Wells and I made our way to Pirates Cove, the aptly named school cafeteria.
Looking over the menu and choices, I was pretty impressed. There were many options on the menu, and I have to say everything looked good.
The three main choices were Barbecue Rib Sandwiches, Vegetable Lasagna, and Turkey, all of which were served with vegetables and salad and sugar free, low calorie drinks. You could also get a pre-made salad as a meal or indulge in the very well-stocked salad bar.
Not being much of a meat eater-- well, actually I’m a vegetarian-- this choice was an easy one and, I must say, the Vegetarian Lasagna was fantastic, as was the salad and the butternut squash. I was very impressed and the fact that Mr. Wells footed the bill made it even nicer.
If there is a problem with what kids are eating at schools these days, Oxford High School is definitely not part of the problem. This was a really good, nutritious, and tasty meal, in fact one of the better meals I have had in some time. I give it a totally thumbs-up score, and there was definitely no tomato paste in the vegetables!
- Monday, 21 November 2011
- Posted in Categories: : News