You want fries with that?

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A desired result was achieved after a recent Chronicle Times editorial questioned the wisdom of the Cherokee School District's expansive a la carte lunchtime menu.

That result was friendly, open discourse with Cherokee Superintendent John Chalstrom regarding the editorial's complaint that the district was creating its own woes by offering such a wide variety of "pricey" a la carte items and then publicly fretting over the fact students sometimes spend too much money on those items, versus eating the normal and more affordable lunchtime meal.

In the editorial, we identifed some of the a la carte offerings as "junk food," a term with which Chalstrom took offense. In retrospect, we probably should have said "fast food."

Our position in the original editorial was that the school could avoid the problem by limiting the number of a la carte items, which might encourage students to eat the normal lunchtime meal that is touted as nutritional, balanced, and tasty, and perhaps supplement that meal with one or two "healthy" a la carte items for those with larger appetites. Certainly, a football lineman requires more caloric intake than a 90-pound flutist.

And, for what it's worth, we know of a Washington High student who quit eating a la carte for an entire school year and chose the normal lunchtime meal every day. He lost 30 pounds.

Basically, Chalstrom defended the district's lunch program, stating the school must follow federal wellness guidelines with special emphasis on limiting fats and caloric intake. He said when he first arrived in Cherokee, among a la carte items were such things as Ho Hos, Ding Dongs, packaged cookies, Little Debbie products, and ice cream treats. Those are no longer offered, according to the Superintendent.

"The past several years the focus for all school districts is to offer a healthier array of foods," said Chalstrom.

Further, there are now no fried products (except french fries), and all the potato chip-type offerings are baked. Also, among a la carte items are fruits, salads, and granola bars - all healthy choices.

"We, as do all school districts, recognize that no one size fits all, and we also apply that thinking to our lunch program," explained Chalstrom.

Chalstrom also wove the lunch program into the students' on-going educational process, saying, "What we're doing is teaching age-appropriate students that they do have choices and it's up to them to make the appropriate choices."

Chalstrom also agreed that if students are spending too much money on a la carte items while disdaining the normal lunchtime meal, and thereby creating a financial hardship on family, that it's an issue between the student and his parents, and not the school.

When asked why a school would want to be in the middle of such potential controversy by offering so many tempting a la carte items, Chalstrom rationalized that it was pretty much unavoidable.

To somewhat help the situation, a band-aid will soon be applied to any wounds when parents will be able to police the action by accessing their children's hot lunch account on the Internet to trace how much money is being spent and for what.

Until then, students and parents, bon appetit!