In all its long history, the school lunch has never really been known for culinary excellence. Tater tot casserole, mystery meat, cold canned fruit-these are the commonly conjured images of our country's cafeterias. But to be fair, the National School Lunch Program, which provides free or reduced-price lunches to 31 million kids every day, has never aimed to excite the taste buds as much as fill little bellies.
But as industrialized agriculture and technological advances made processed foods more available and convenient, our school kitchens began to disappear or be stripped of cooking equipment. In their place we installed facilities that looked more like fast food establishments, with warmers and deep fryers. Or we brought in vending machines and branded fast foods to take the place of a home-cooked meal. It was no coincidence that in those same decades, childhood obesity doubled and adolescent obesity quadrupled. Studies found that students who ate school lunch were nearly 30% more likely to be obese than those that brought lunch from home. Today, more than one-third of American children and teens are overweight or obese...READ MORE