In a Huffington Post blog post, James Beard Award winner and Iron Chef Marc Vetri argues for a change in school lunches that includes menu changes but also goes beyond what lands on the lunchtray. Instead of shuffling kids through a line, plopping foods on their trays, and rushing them through eating it, he’d like to see school lunches be more family style.
Focusing solely on the quality of the food is missing half of the equation, he says. Telling children something is healthy and expecting them to eat it is probably one of the more arduous tasks ever. Anyone who has children knows chicken nuggets and French fries always get a "hip hip hurray," while carrot sticks and spinach elicit a chorus of "yucks" and "boos." But sitting at the table and placing all those things around them changes the game. All of a sudden, you're not just shoving something healthy down their throats. You're talking, eating, engaging and connecting. You're speaking a language that they can comprehend.
He’s seen this work in a summer school program in Philadelphia that the Vetri Foundation participates in.
I love this idea of doing school lunches family style. Putting healthy foods on the table and allowing kids to take what they want makes so much sense. It’s how we do it at home. The way most lunch programs work, lunch aids put required foods on a child’s tray whether the child wants it or not. If the child doesn’t want it, it goes in the trash. If the child actually likes a part of the meal, there isn’t an opportunity to get more of it.
With a healthy family style meal, if a child likes a particular vegetable, he can take as much as he wants of it. If he wants to skip something, he can, and it won’t end up in wasted in the trash. Manners are learned and practiced in this type of setting, too. I hope the Vetri Foundation continues this work and that the concept takes off into other communities and school systems.