P lease do not think I'm an expert on school lunches. I'm not.
But the truth is I was a champion school lunch eater. I liked the food we were served in school -- and please don't suggest it must have been because my mother was a lousy cook, because she was one of the best cooks I've ever known -- and I'd go back for seconds whenever we were allowed.
I've given this a lot of thought because I can't figure what's so wrong with school lunches these days that the federal government thinks it has to change something about it every other year.
Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture instituted new nutrition standards in our national school lunch program.
The feds believed it had a public health crisis on its hands.
They think we've become a country full of fat people. They might be right. But even if it's true, I'm not sure how that's become the government's business -- I can almost hear old Ben Franklin laughing about it now.
Anyway, the goal apparently is to enhance the lives of future generations by improving the eating habits of the current generation.
And how do we get there from here? Well, we'll encourage kids to eat more fish (hopefully not tuna contaminated with mercury), fruit and vegetables, low-fat or skim milk, and less pasta, grains, sweets and red meats. Plus, they're told to eat breakfast every day and avoid fast foods like the plague.
OK, I can see the logic in that, I guess.
So this school year, all students will be required to take at least one serving of produce on their trays on the theory that once they have it so close at hand, they might actually eat it. More fruit and vegetables -- that can't be so bad can it?
Depends on the fruit and vegetables we're talking about. I'm thinking Brussels sprouts, spinach and cooked carrots are going to go over like a pregnant high jumper with today's kids.
Most days there's going to be a lot of fruit and vegetables thrown into the garbage can because the kids won't eat them. Kids today apparently haven't heard about all the starving kids in India my parents were always talking about.
I was blessed, I guess. My brother and I were good eaters. My two children were always good eaters. My grandchildren are good eaters, too. All were raised knowing there would be one meal put on the table -- eat it or go hungry until the next meal.
"We're not running a restaurant around here," my mother would sometimes remind us. So we ate.
Anyway, I'm thinking the problem with the school lunch situation isn't so much a question of nutrition as it is the way food is being prepared and the exercise, or lack thereof, that follows a meal.
Fifty-plus years ago, school lunches included: Spaghetti and meat balls, beef potpie and Harvard beets, baked meat loaf, baked macaroni and cheese, beef stew, hamburger barbecue, ham and string beans, roast turkey, filling, lima beans and tuna fish salad.
That was on a monthly menu from my elementary school days -- November 1956, to be exact.
And it was all made from scratch on the day it was served.
Followed by a 45-minute recess during which we actually exercised.
I don't know about anyone else, but I think that's a well-balanced diet. It is probably the reason I went through 12 years of school and never carried my lunch.
But by today's standards, that menu has way too much meat and pasta to pass muster with the feds' nutrition experts.
So I guess people don't eat like that anymore.
I've gone to breakfast -- Grandparent's Day -- at my granddaughter's elementary school a couple of times. I'm not complaining, but the offerings were pretty dismal: frozen waffles with make-believe syrup, fake eggs and cheese on a frozen English muffin, plus a piece of fruit, milk and juice. The waffles and breakfast sandwich were heated, of course, and kept toasty in a food warmer.
It was edible. And it would keep a person from starving to death. But it wasn't memorable. It certainly wasn't something I'd ever look forward to.
More fruit and vegetables, less meat, less fat and less sodium. That's the formula the Healthy, Hunger-Free Act of 2010 calls for.
Some kids will go for that, I guess. But I'm inclined to think unless they spoon those vegetables and fruit on top of a personal pizza or inside a taco shell, it's going to be about as welcome at lunch as liver-on-a-stick.
And not a french fry in sight.
I wish them well.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: email@example.com.