This article in the New York Times screams resoundingly truthful in my ears, especially after experiencing the wonderfully orchestrated, wholesome meal that is the Japanese school lunch. All my suspicions about the supreme processed ickiness of US school lunch is confirmed and condoned by US policy. It's disgusting.
All of my public schools at least had a cafeteria, but even my affluent private high school served rather unhealthy items for lunch and snacks. Fruits and vegetables were definitely lacking in any quantity, much less the 50% of the tray they fill in many of my Japanese school lunches.
I remember that when I was in school, lunch would be the only meal some children would eat, because their parents were derelict or poor or just plain unresponsible. Some of the kids were on the free lunch or subsidized lunch program and they had to make the meal last them until the next day at school breakfast. I was such a snob that I usually didn't eat all my lunch, deeming it fatty, nutritionless, and disgusting as early as middle school.
Eventually, my middle school did create a Salad Bar Island as an alternative to the hot lunch. This was pretty popular, but lacked balance as it did not contain starch or meat! I usually brought home lunch, only occassionally getting the school lunch when I knew I would be able to palate the menu of the day.
The US should look to the Japanese system of lunch distribution if they need a new structure. Under this system, not every school has to be outfitted with a cafeteria. The food will be prepared in a central cafeteria and delivered to the schools at lunchtime. I do wonder, though, if American students will have the discipline not to pillage the best parts of the lunch, hogging and squirreling and perhaps even deliberately spilling the food for the sole purpose of making a mess and causing trouble.
By the way, yesterday's lunch was curried chow mein, chicken peroshki (a russian bao or meat-filled bun is the best way I can desribe it), salad with creamy dressing, peaches, and pineapple, and a small packet of salted almonds. The kids went nuts for the almonds!
I also really enjoyed Thursday's lunch: there was a cooked green bean salad with sesame dressing, loaded with sesame seeds, fried rice, and white fish katsu that was cooked in what I can best describe as oyakodon style, fried with a clear brown gravy, plenty of onions and big chunks of mushroom, and egg. There was also half a banana and milk, of course.
I dread ever becoming a teacher in an American school and eating the school lunch.