Admit it: When you were a whippersnapper paying your dues in your local school system, you probably tried to avoid the mystery meat of the day the way a vegan avoids eating animals. With few exceptions -- namely extra-crispy pepperoni pizza (round or rectangle; they both met the minimum edibility requirements, if "edibility" is, in fact, a word), cookies, copious quantities of chocolate milk, and the ultimate juggernaut of taste when it came to cafeteria food: glorious, golden-baked Jamaican beef patties -- it was simply too high a social risk to consume the majority of mysterious conglomerations that "lunch ladies" ladled onto those flimsy, Styrofoam trays.
To a teenager who used about a quarter-cup of hair gel every morning to form perfect scalp stalagmites, the choice between starving oneself at lunch and then having to run two miles during eighth-period gym class on an empty stomach versus the unknown possibilities that could ensue from scarfing some of Ethel and Gertrude's "secret-recipe" chili was as clear as vodka.
Thank goodness somebody realized how backwards it was to serve such unappealing, nutritionally lacking lunches. In the past decade, enormous changes have been made nationwide in the ways learning institutions feed our offspring. Initiatives have been undertaken where schools have students manage organic gardens on premises and take field trips to local farms to learn where their lunch originates and how it grows. Budgets have been utilized more thoughtfully and efficiently, investing in these same farms to supply students with the freshest ingredients and an abundance of healthy choices, and in other creative, culinary-geared ways.
Some of the public schools (and, in some cases, entire districts) that made this list earned their place by overhauling pre-existing systems that were clearly in need of a makeover; others were added because their private school status afforded them the luxury of an on-staff celebrity chef (I'm not kidding, people). Most of these schools integrate nutrition, food history, and business and economic principles -- like supply and demand and supply-chains -- into curriculum by way of their culinary programs, some going as far as to bring esoteric teachings like bee-keeping into the mix. And our top school on the list had better have gourmet fare in its cafeteria -- it's where the POTUS's daughters attend.
Schools like The Calhoun School in Manhattan, New York, have a French culinary chef weighing-in on the menu design, and ten-day menus are even submitted a week in advance. Others like the high schools in Burlington, Vermont, source a third of all their ingredients for the lunches locally and add bonus fruits and vegetables, and unlimited milk to meals for hungry students.
Check out the slideshow to see how privileged these young students are when it comes to lunch, but prepare for some serious jealousy!
-Erik Mathes, The Daily Meal
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