Wednesday , April 16, 2014 - 11:39 AM
Peanut butter bars were the reason kids used to eat school lunch. We’d chew our way through just about anything to get to that delicious square of chocolate frosting-covered peanut butter and brown sugar goodness. We had other desserts too, but nothing stacked up to the bars. That’s probably why new entre recipes were usually accompanied by peanut butter bars — the cooks knew we kids would try anything to get to that dessert.
So when I saw the headline, “Fewer eating school lunch in district,” I thought, Well, what did they expect when they did away with the peanut butter bars? Desserts are pretty much non-existent in school lunch now because it’s hard to meet today’s “No Child Left Unhealthy” requirements for salts and fats and carbs and have anything left to make a treat.
Unlike today, school lunch years ago offered two choices: take it or leave it. ‘Leave it’ meant you just went on out to the playground hungry. ‘Take it’ meant you got your lunch card punched, picked up your fork and spoon and a box of milk and received a tray of food. The trays were sectioned: rectangle section for the main course, round section for the vegetables, two small square sections for the fruit and the dessert, and smallest section for the milk carton. Two other choices faced us as we sat down and looked at our food: eat it all and go outside to play, or sit and wait for the lunch bell to release us back to class. And no eating dessert until our food was gone, or the lunch monitor (a large, grumpy woman) would make us sit there until the bell rang.
Fortunately, our school lunches were actually pretty good. At least they tasted good. In hindsight, I have to wonder about the nutritional value. I’m sure nutrition was important, but having the food actually get into our stomachs seemed of equal importance. So we got some real rib-sticking meals like a scoop of mashed potatoes set atop a grilled slab of Spam-like meat, covered with melted cheese. The salt in that serving would have been off the charts, but we didn’t care. The very few who didn’t like Spam were instant celebrities, courted by dozens of kids around them who wanted it.
Another artery clogging meal was school lunch pizza — a big square of crust that dripped grease when you picked it up, topped with tomato sauce, fried hamburger, and a ton of government-issued cheese, melted to perfection. I remember once blotting my piece with my napkin, watching that orange grease soak through. I ate it anyway, every single wonderful bite.
We also had something called “Cowboy Delight,” which most likely never saw a campfire, but was good and hearty and probably full of fat and salt. It was a delicious conglomerate of elbow macaroni, hamburger, tomato sauce, a few seasonings, and again, that cheese. That stuff would keep you warm even on a winter playground, then take you through a whole afternoon of math and science.
I looked online at today’s school lunch menus. There are no potato-covered Spam slabs, no Cowboy Delight, and certainly no peanut butter bars. Rumor has it that kids who bring home-packed lunches are the new celebrities. Kids will give away a whole trayful of nutritious stuff for a Ding Dong. Heck, I would too.
I’m not a school lunch cook. My claim to authority on this subject stems from the 131,000 kid meals I figure I’ve cooked. Any mom with a similar record will know this simple truth: You can cook meals that are good for you, but they also have to be just plain good. Otherwise, the kids won’t eat it. Period.
So. There’s the riddle. Administration can order food that is nutritionally good for the kids. The kids want food that tastes good to them. Is there a middle ground?
I have a child who chose to waste an entire afternoon sitting at the table rather than eat her meal. The kids always win this one. Which means in the end, everyone loses.
Just bring back the peanut butter bars. If you bake it, they will come.
Louise has the original lunchroom peanut butter bar recipe. If you want to make something that tastes good but isn’t good for you, send her email request.
You can contact D. Louise Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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