Everything you did not know about the food you get at the lunch line
After an interview with Bethany Markee, Orcutt Union School District’s Director of Child Nutrition, she talked about many topics in which teachers and students come up with daily. She discussed the menu and the possibility of new options in the lunch line as well as the food regulations that hold her back from distributing better options. She is responsible for feeding and developing recipes for about 5,200 students in ten schools’ lunches, and in a few of them breakfast and after school snacks.
Markee explains the many rules and regulations she has to abide by with the food she and her staff serves. “There are a tremendous amount of rules with the National School Lunch Program, fortunately or unfortunately. Some of them keep us definitely safe,” but she feels that many rules do not have as positive an impact as they do negative. She gives an example of the rule stating that students must take a fruit or vegetable when passing through the lunch line. She states her belief that because of this rule, “we are wasting a lot of food (and not to mention money that the district doesn’t necessarily have a lot of).” Markee believes that forcing kids to take a fruit or a vegetable with no real explanation or education on why they are taking those fruits and vegetables, ultimately ends with this food in the trash cans.
Markee explains one of her largest concerns, which is how little she believes students are being fed. She explains how the restrictions on her job make it difficult to suit the children coming through the lunch. Markee states, “We have restrictions on calories and portion sizes that we can provide, and that we have to use so many whole grains; for example with pasta, it has to be whole wheat pasta, and with tortillas it has to be whole wheat tortillas.” She explains how she would love to offer more healthy calories to students, but cannot do that with all the restrictions she has to work around. For high schoolers, the breakfast menu has between 450 and 500 calories, while the lunch menu has 550 to 600 calories (which Markee believes is not enough for a high school student). She goes on to explain specifically where those calories have to come from, stating, “We have to offer two ounces of grain, two ounces of protein, a half to three quarters cups of fruits and vegetables a day, and then the eight ounces of milk.”
“We have a lot of things coming. We may, in fact bring a food truck to the high school, and there may be a class in the future where students can work on the food truck and help design the menu,” Markee shares. This could become a new elective and give students a way to have what they want served. Markee is creating recipes with her knowledge from her 28 years as a professional chef for new smoothies and pizza options. “There is definitely different menu changes for the next school year,” which students can look forward to.
Being the Director of Child Nutrition leaves Bethany Markee with a lot of work and few options, but she enjoys her job and is passionate about doing all she can for the students in the district. Markee states, “I genuinely really care what children eat. I think it’s very important. You can’t learn if you’re hungry. I do this job because I enjoy it – not just because it’s a job.” Markee finished the interview noting how she does everything she can to serve the students in the district the best food possible.