Dead to us: school cafeteria

V used to love school cafeteria. We would let her go once a week and it was a special treat. The food is not terrible but nothing particularly great, so we would pack lunches almost every day. Diagnosis of diabetes did not bring much change, as detailed nutrition facts were available and V could give herself insulin to cover lunch. Then came Celiac. We studied the menu closely. Surely, there had to be a day where they served something she could eat. Well…

W is for wheat. And it is in every single meal served except for milk and fruits/veggies.

W is for wheat. And it is in every single meal served except for milk and fruits/veggies.

I emailed the district  food service department and they said that they were happy to make accommodations for us. Yay, right? Not so fast. V was given the choices of: 1) chicken drumstick in a corn tortilla or 2) turkey in a corn tortilla or 3) sunflower butter in a… you guessed it… corn tortilla. Between yuck, yuck, and yuck V chose the first yuck. It was OK in the beginning and filled V’s cafeteria fix but it got old quickly. As the school year end is approaching (we are on a year-round schedule and don’t get out until mid-July), V started to express how much she was disliking the food. She started to ask us to not send her to the cafeteria and make lunches for her. Problem is, we picked to send her (and her brother) to the cafeteria on Wednesday because Tuesday is our BMX night, we get home late, and we have no energy to make lunches. Cafeteria used to solve that problem: we did not have to worry about packing lunches and kids could get their treat. But for how long would V have to tolerate her chicken drumstick with tortilla, week after week? Feeling increasingly bad for her, we needed to think outside of the box. Thanks to diabetes, V has access to the microwave in the nurse’s office, so we thought that perhaps bringing a frozen meal would be an easy and more appealing alternative. I went exploring frozen options at different stores and found quite a bit.

Stocking up on some of our gluten-free favorites at Target.

In addition to these entrees, I also found a few varieties of frozen GF burritos, and all these frozen foods had reasonable carb counts too. Granted, the price of V’s Wednesday lunch would go up from $2 at the cafeteria to $4-5 (because GF foods must be made with unicorn ingredients, judging by the price), but whatever. We want to V to be happy, we want to ease our burden, so naturally the solution came down to paying through our nose to provide an acceptable option. So yesterday I sat down and composed this email:

Hi ________,   Effective this week V will no longer be eating at the cafeteria on Wednesdays. I appreciate your help in making accommodations for her gluten-free diet. I did want to relay, however, that her experience was very disappointing. She used to love getting food at the cafeteria, it was a special treat for her. By now she is sick of eating her unappetizing chicken drumstick and tortilla, week after week. Our family is fortunate in that we have resources to send V with a fresh home-made lunch every day. I cannot imagine how difficult it would be for a child with Celiac without same resources who has to rely on cafeteria food every day. I really hope that more appetizing gluten-free options will become available soon. I am aware of many other school districts in the nation that are able to provide fresh (or at least less processed) food options for school lunches, which then translated to easier and better gluten-free options and other dietary accommodations.
In the meantime, who in the district would be the best person to communicate our disappointment with the lack of reasonable gluten-free options on lunch menu? I’d be particularly interested in speaking with person(s) in charge of creating the menu.
I would also like to revisit menu options before start of next school year to see if better choices become available.
This morning I got a response:
Good Morning Polina, Thank you for letting me know that V will no longer be eating with us. I am sorry to hear that you have been unhappy with the options provided this past year. Special diet meal plans can be particularly challenging in a district as large as ours when you consider the number of students that must be accommodated and the variation in allergies/conditions we are accommodating. Finding products that meet the majority of the student’s needs, fit within our budget, and meet the federal meal pattern requirements is no small task. That being said we are always looking to improve our services and I would be happy to pass along your comments to the other members of our team that participate in menu planning. Please feel free to reach out in the fall and we can discuss options for next school year.

What is that I hear? Blah blah blah, we are sorry, blah blah blah we can’t do anything, blah blah blah it’s too hard, blah blah blah. Blah. Good bye cafeteria. And good riddance.


4 responses to “Dead to us: school cafeteria

  1. Unicorn ingredients!

    I had a similar but opposite experience this year, where the online menu made it seem the only option would be grilled chicken Cesar salad or a dish of marinara sauce. But once I inquired, it turned out pizza and cheeseburgers were also possible. EVERY DAY since then my person has had a cheeseburger. I’ve come to think of it as
    A treat and
    A BARGAIN because there’s no surcharge for the unicorn bun (!)

    I’m sorry your school doesn’t offer more. You make a very good point about the child with celiac who depends on daily cafeteria meals. I’m glad you sent that note.


    • Oh how I wish we had the same outcome. I was even willing to provide gluten- free…errrrrrr…..unicorn buns if they could give V a simple hot dog. But of course the hot dog comes packaged with the bun. Eff it all. We supply our own magical food from now on.


  2. That cafeteria deserved the sack. Isn’t it in all the kids and parents best interests to have meals served with more fresh ingredients and less processed stuff?


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