I get asked this question quite a bit and it’s tough one, because I have eaten a LOT of amazing school meals. While school lunch often gets a bad wrap, and there is certainly more ground to cover, there are a lot of school meal programs around the nation pumping out really nice meals.
The ability to produce a quality meal that appeals to a broad audience is even more remarkable given the constraints school meals face. After paying for labor and facility costs most school districts only have about a dollar to spend on the food that goes on the tray, and with that dollar they have to provide a cup of milk, a serving each of a fruit and vegetable, a grain and protein of some sort. All that with only a dollar!
On top of the budget constraints, they typically have to serve a few hundred meals in an hour or so. In some of the large urban school districts it isn’t uncommon for a cafeteria to serve 500 or more meals in less than an hour. And those large urban school districts aren’t know for expansive modern kitchens. I’ve been in school cafeterias producing that kind volume in kitchens not much bigger than my home kitchen. And let me tell you, blogging and working in school food has not afforded me the expansive kitchen of my dreams….
But despite all that, I’ve eaten these amazing meals, in no particular order:
- Salad bars—I’ve had so many great meals from a school salad bar. Spring mix, fresh veggies, legumes like chickpeas, garlic hummus, even guacamole. Bonus points for cafeterias that make their own lowfat ranch dressing, which I love and I will not apologize for that!
- A freshly cooked, straight from the griddle hamburger from a brand new, top of the line, shiny school food truck. As close to In and Out one can get on a whole grain bun!
- Entrée salads—I’m talking southwestern style chicken salads with black beans, corn salsa, some shredded cheese and maybe even some tortilla chips, Asian chicken salad with crisp romaine, crunchy noodles and a spicy dressing, the tried and true ceaser, the list goes on and on……
- Build your own deli sandwiches—I love a good deli sandwich, and while not every school has the space or equipment to facilitate a “build your own” kind of meal, these are a huge hit.
- BBQ Chicken Flatbread, also from a brand new, top of the line, shiny school food truck.
Honorable mention: I ate one of the most amazing breakfast burritos ever (and I’ve eaten a lot of breakfast burritos) from the school cafeteria in Eureka, Nevada. Freshly scrambled eggs, some diced ham and cheese. On a chilly morning, it was a real game changer. Sadly, I did not document the moment with a picture.
What about you, what’s the best school meal you ever ate?