The state board of education has given Evanston/Skokie School District 65’s school lunch program high marks in an annual review.

The state analyzed a week’s worth of menus to ensure compliance with calorie and nutrient standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

District 65 food services meals passed the review and met caloric and dietary guidelines based on student age groups.

These guidelines are met through offerings that include reduced-fat milk, vegetables, fresh fruit, whole grains, and lean meats, which are a part of every lunchtime menu.

District officials say foods are never fried and portion sizes are standard and age-appropriate.

Items served in the lunch program offer no more than 30 percent of calories from fat, while dietary allowances of protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A & C are also provided.

Christine Frole, the District’s Food Service Coordinator, said the district “is also pleased to be able to offer meals that meet the federal nutrition standards at affordable prices. Priced at $2.50 for elementary schools and $2.75 for middle schools, school lunch offers a wide variety of choices and value for the cost.”

The Food Services Department has created an online resource to provide parents with nutrition label and ingredient listings for many of the school lunch offerings. Families whose children have allergies, or those interested in learning about the ingredients in school lunch offerings can now get this information in the online menus posted on the district’s website.

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  1. Low standards in the kitchen too
    It is pathetic that D65 felt it necessary to send out a press release regarding this dubious honor. The nutritional standards set by the department of agriculture have more to do with what trade groups have successfully lobbied or what commodities are flooding the market than what foods are in the best interest of our children’s health.

    Take a look at the menu–Breaded Mozzarella Cheese sticks, breaded chicken, chocolate milk and strawberry milk (yes, I know it is 1%), bread sticks, waffles and syrup, etc.

    And this is the same district that demands parents bring only “healthy” snacks for holiday or birthday celebrations.

    What do we teach our children when we insist that it okay to have high salt, processed food–with chocolate milk–everyday, but it is not okay to have special treats on special occasions?

  2. State nutrition standards are extremely lax
    I recently requested nutritional data on all the school-provided lunches from the district and was horrified at what I found (this information is available to anyone on request.) My pet peeve meal? Thursday’s “Brunch for Lunch” consisting of prepackaged, precooked De Wafelbakker’s brand mini buttermilk pancakes (similar to these available at Wal-Mart) with Physedibles Vanilla Cookies, pre-portioned flavored corn syrup, sugary canned fruit cocktail, and sausages that have only nominally more protien than fat.

    Parents should be aware that almost all the food served in our schools is pre-cooked – not at the High School, where it is “prepared” – but at the manufacturing plant it is shipped from. Our kids are getting the equivalent of Lunchables or worse for lunch – and these high-sugar, high-kid-appeal, low-nutrition lunches (at a recent meeting, the District Nutritionist noted that the above lunch is their “most popular”) are allowed because you can average the nutritional requirements over the course of a week. These lunches are designed to entice kids who pay full-price and who don’t eat a school-provided lunch every day, as, while lunch prices are fixed, the District recieves more money from full-price lunch purchases.

    Reviewing the entirety of the K-5 foods, only 11 (less than 20% of the offerings, all of which are sides or drinks) – contain only 1 ingredient (I included the sliced apples which are treated with vitamin C.) 11 other foods have less than 10 ingredients but all of these contain added salt, sugar, corn syrup or all of the above. The remaining 36 foods have an ingredients list that is more than 12 ingredients long, and in some cases the ingredients column covers most of the page – and the longer the ingredients list, the more it sounds not like food but like a chemistry experiment.

    I understand the restrictions the District is working under: USDA requirements for school lunch are extremely restrictive and thus require artificially-enriched foods, their foods have to be easily distributed to schools in a cooked form, and the food does cost more than the cafeterias are allowed to charge. What I don’t like is that these meals are being presented as “nutritious,” instead of “the best we can do under the circumstances,” which is nearer to the truth.

    Find out more about Brummel Park Neighbors and 75,000 Hours

    1. Re: State nutrition standards are extremely lax

      I appreciate the work you’ve done to discover these details.

      But what is Ms. Frole using to guide her food decisions? USDA guidelines, the tastes of students, and low prices. Should we be surprised at what sort of food is served at D65 schools? I wonder if D65 parents were to provide alternative guidelines–you seem to value foods with few ingredients, which sounds like a good guideline to me, as a start–and have a sit-down with Ms. Frole, we might be able to make some changes? The USDA guidelines are garbage, and here we are earning awards for following them!!

      I don’t think we can blame Ms. Frole or the folks at D65 who make our food for following the USDA guidelines and the tastes of students, but it looks like we have to offer better guidelines! Will change be possible within current budgetary constraints? within current regulatory constraints?

      We first have to communicate our desire for different ways of measuring food quality.

      1. Bad Food Policy Runs Downhill…
        I did bring up my objection directly at the District meeting cited above to Ms. Frohle and Meghan Gibbons, the ETHS director of nutrition, and was told only that “the food meets the guidelines,” “this is our most popular lunch,” and “those aren’t cookies, they’re whole-grain crackers.” Pandering to children is not an excuse – if the sole goal of the school lunch program is to get kids to eat, why not serve whole-grain, low-fat, vitamin-enriched birthday cake every day? Like most parents, I assumed that when the District said their food was “nutritious” they meant they were serving something better than fast food; I had no idea the majority of the food served are the same products I refuse to buy at the grocery store.

        You will note, I did mention that the District is working under a number of restrictions, including the (national) USDA guidelines, which require the meals offer 1/3 of the US recommended dietary allowance (averaged over a week.) Achieving this goal is impossible without highly-processed enriched foods. Wouldn’t it be both cheaper and easier to give the kids a vitamin pill or vitamin-enriched milk and serve real food instead? Hot soup, if made in-house at the ETHS kitchens, accompanied by a cold sandwich or a quesadilla, would be less expensive than the faux food they’re serving now. At the very, very least, they could replace the weekly sugar-laden “brunch for lunch” meals with something substantive.

        PS. The kids don’t always get actual pizza! “Pizza Day” often consists of a cheese-stuffed Bosco breadstick and marinara sauce whose second listed ingredient is corn syrup – but at least on those days, they get real Romaine lettuce.

        Find out more about Brummel Park Neighbors and 75,000 Hours

  3. High marks? Just shows how low the nutrition standards are
    I’ve seen the inadequate fare dished out as hot lunch at Evanston public schools. I wouldn’t feed it to my cat.

    If this food meets state standards, those standards must be pretty meager. Pizza is a major staple and it looks like bread with catsup smeared on it. There may not serve “fried” food but they have plenty of breaded mystery chicken blobs that have been heated in a microwave.

    No adult would choose to eat what District 65 serves to our children.

  4. Food at 202 and 65
    Over the years parent groups have tried to change this. I was part of one group that met with Ms. Frohle about 6 years ago. The sad part is that some of the schools have real kitchens and could really cook food. Mostly food is heated up there and it comes out of cans. Cost is an real issue, both the cost of labor and the cost of fresh, healthy ingredients. But the message we kept getting was that when they had tried to offer some healthier options, the kids wouldn’t buy it. We kept saying- until you get rid of the candy, cookies, chips etc. they aren’t going to try the healthy options. We were told that as parents if we could help to educate our kids on healthy eating then they wouldn’t choose to eat the chips etc… we made no headway.
    202 is no better.Check out their vending machines in the lunch room . They installed a pop machine near the athletic office about three years ago, when schools all over the nation were removing them. One parent said she tried to find out who approved this and noone knew. When the wellness committee was started at 202 a few years ago, Lohra Vogel, who had worked on lunch room food issues at 65, asked to be on it but was refused. The food service at 202 is a revenue stream, the woman who used to run it was given an award, if I remember correctly. Changing food offerings, or rather the mindset at food service at either 65 or 202 is a Herculean task.

  5. Just bring school lunches from home
    Teach your kids to pack their lunch. Cheese, crackers, an apple or carrot, and a pretzel. Nothing simpler. Problem solved. They don’t have time to eat more than that anyway. Fighting d65 on this has been and will continue to be a losing battle. Use that fight energy on curriculum.

    1. Lunch is on you, whether your kids eat it or not
      Again, according to the information at the D65 meeting; Federal NSLP Reimbursement Rates –
      FREE = $2.59, REDUCED = $2.19, PAID = $0.26: your tax dollars at work. Frankly, our experience with education at our home school has been exemplary – it’s this food that is wasting our taxes.

      Find out more about Brummel Park Neighbors and 75,000 Hours

  6. School lunches
    The best bet on this is to watch the Obamas’ vegetable garden harvest and hope–or lobby–for some of it to make its way into the DC schools’ lunch program this spring and fall. Maybe the USDA (with help from the new administration!) will then get the right idea and reduce its subsidizing of all that highly processed stuff AKA food. But D65 has little control over what it serves for lunch, as it needs those federal dollars. Change in the national school lunch program has to come down from the top. So offer your kids a nutritious breakfast, dinner and after school snack, and just consider the hot lunch “dessert”. Or send them to school with a lunch from home.

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