Do school lunches really need to be reformulated to make them “great again,” as the Trump administration claims?
To answer that question, we sampled six different school lunches that meet federal nutritional standards developed during the Obama administration.
We purchased three different meals from the San Luis Coastal Unified School District and three from the Lucia Mar Unified School District in South County. (We tried to include Atascadero, but the food service department there does not allow meals to be taken off campus.)
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First, for anyone who has not set foot inside a school cafeteria for the past 10 years or so, be forewarned: These are not the lunches of our youth. Gone are the instant mashed potatoes, the iceberg lettuce and the sloppy joes.
Ingredients we had never heard of when we were young — like faro and Pixie tangerines and chickpeas — are now on the menu.
To cut to the chase, four of the six meals were excellent to adequate, leaving two that, well, let’s say we wouldn’t recommend them.
Our favorites: A carnitas bowl and taco pizza from San Luis Coastal and pepperoni pizza and Ceasar salad from Lucia Mar.
Both of the pizzas were made with whole wheat crust and, no, it did not taste like cardboard. The crusts were at least as good if not better than most white crusts.
The salads — both the Ceasar from Lucia Mar and the side salads served at San Luis Coastal — were fresh and crisp and weren’t boring, as some salads can be. The side salads, for example, had cucumbers, tomatoes, corn and beans.
The side fruit was good, too. Did we mention the Ojai pixies?
As for the meals that fell to the bottom of our list, the turkey sandwich from Lucia Mar was bland and the bread was dry, and the ham in the mac and cheese from San Luis Coastal was on the rubbery side.
The chocolate chip cookies — both districts buy premade whole wheat dough from Edna’s bakery — were fine. Again, no cardboardy taste or texture.
To wash down the cookies (not that they needed it), we sampled all three milks on the menu: Nonfat white, nonfat chocolate and low-fat white. All the milk was sufficiently cold and tasty.
We even saved some and used it in our coffee the next morning.