When you read the phrase “school lunch,” what image does it evoke in your mind? Some people may imagine a plate full o’ slop, dished up by a big fat grumpy lady in a hairnet, though I’m not entirely convinced that woman and that situation ever existed – she may have been created by the media to bolster support for Big Grocery Store. I ate school lunch for years – mostly through elementary school – and the thing I’ll never forget is the pizza: that rectangular pizza with the tiny cubed pepperoni pieces? I have a feeling you know exactly what I’m talking about. Why did it taste so good? Probably because nothing about it was real food. Well I’m sad to report that that specific pizza is nowhere to be found in 2016 – at least not in Los Angeles. No, school lunch has changed, man. It’s changed.
At the Unnamed High School in South Central where I work we actually get lunch delivered every day by a company called Better 4 You Meals – because we’re fancy like that. We used to eat the same old lunch served to traditional LAUSD schools (we’re a charter – save your boos and hisses), but we switched over for financial reasons or something – I never really cared enough to find out. The great thing about the new way things work though, is that we tend to always have leftover meals, and I’ve never been one to turn down free food (I’m still not sure if I’m technically supposed to be eating it though, so don’t tell any of the school’s higher-ups).
This week we were treated to a variety of items, but the real standout was the chicken fajita meal – and not because it was good. Better 4 You has a real seasoning issue, and I presume it’s for the benefit of the kids – don’t want to shove to bunch sodium down a teenager’s gullet – but I’m an adult. I could use some spices to get myself through a meal. Actually the chicken provided with the fajitas is one of the few items that comes to us perfectly seasoned – everything else is incredibly bland. So I’m usually really psyched to see it on the menu. It’s often served with rice and refried beans, as was the case this week. But something was off – particularly in the beans department; these beans had not been refried. I’m not even sure they were once-fried. I’m not even sure that they were pinto beans! They tasted like the type of bean you would find in baked beans (navy beans? Is that right?) tossed in watery bean runoff. It was disgusting. Really ruined the meal, which is too bad because B4Y’s refried bean game is usually pretty on point. It’s okay though, the company rebounded later in the week with a surprisingly strong lasagna dish, and there’s always the daily turkey sandwich option.
I try not to complain where the school lunch is concerned for a couple of reasons. One – I’m trying to set an example for the students, most of whom skip the somewhat nutritious food in favor of a bag of hot cheetos and a gatorade. I’m hardly the most health-conscious guy, but even I know that’s not a good combination for a lifetime of success. But the real reason – the second reason – is because the food is freaking free. I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, as the saying goes. Sometimes Better 4 You doesn’t bring their A-game, but it doesn’t matter because any day that we have an extra lunch left is a day I didn’t have to spend five dollars on a burrito from the food truck around the corner (it’s a good burrito though – I actually had one today). I can’t count how many times I have stressed to the students that I would eat a lunch that tasted like cardboard if it meant I didn’t have to pay for it. Luckily we aren’t in such dire straits at the Unnamed High School in South Central. I mean, it’s no rectangular pizza, but it’s not nothing.
School Lunch by Better 4 You Meals earns three out of five cartons of milk:
Who says there’s no such thing as a free lunch? For me there is.