When Flaming Hot Cheetos + Nacho Cheese = HISD School Lunch

In the last year I’ve participated in two or three “Nutrition Strategy” meetings held by HISD Food Services, sessions which convene stakeholders from the district, the parent community, the public health profession, the urban gardening movement and elsewhere to discuss our district’s school food.  One of our first tasks was to draft a new mission statement for HISD Food Services, a statement which now routinely appears on the department’s emails and communications material:

Our Nutrition Mission:  “Houston ISD will be a leader in child nutrition and wellness by providing the highest level of nutrition possible on our campuses, by providing comprehensive nutrition and wellness education, and by engaging the entire HISD community to teach our children the benefits of making healthy choices.”

I do believe HISD is working toward these goals and it was my intention to start this blog off on a positive note by sharing news of some of those good developments.  But last week I received a tweet that gave me serious pause.  It was a photograph of one child’s “lunch” in an HISD middle school cafeteria — bright red, baked Flaming Hot Cheetos (aka “hot fries”) covered with processed nacho cheese sauce.

hot fries and nacho cheeseJust to be clear, this was not a lunch brought by the child from home, nor was it purchased by the child off campus.  This “lunch” consisted of foods offered to our children by the district itself, motivated entirely by profit.

As readers of The Lunch Tray know, I appreciate the financial and logistical obstacles facing any school district operating under the National School Lunch Program, and I believe my expectations for what can be achieved in terms of school food reform are realistic.  I’m not one of those parents who insists that school food must be organic, locally-sourced, grass-fed, fair trade and sustainable.  All of that would be great, to be sure, and I hope we see such food on lunch trays in the future.  But for now my goals are more modest:  just more freshly prepared food, more whole foods, fewer highly processed and chemically-preserved entrees, and a more varied menu, particularly at the middle and high school levels, so we don’t teach our kids it’s OK to eat pizza and burgers five days a week, week in and week out.

And when it comes to the district’s “a la carte” lines, which is where the child above obtained his or her bright orange “lunch,” I’d like HISD to take seriously its mission to offer “the highest level of nutrition possible.”  As San Francisco school food reformer Dana Woldow once put it on The Lunch Tray, products like Reduced Fat Doritos. Baked Flaming Hot Cheetos, and 100 calorie Rice Krispies bars are “better for you” “in the sense that it is ‘better for you’ to be hit on the head with a brick only twice instead of three times.”  Clearly such foods are not offering the “highest level of nutrition” possible, but as long as they’re sold in our lunch rooms, kids like the one above will make an entire meal out of them — to the detriment of their own health and their ability to learn effectively in the classroom.

As the chairperson of the nutrition committee of HISD’s School Health Advisory Council (SHAC), I’m working with a dedicated group of parents and public health professionals to  address the issue of a la carte foods in HISD — both the items sold by the district itself (like the Flaming Hot Cheetos above) and items sold by parent and student groups (usually in violation of state rules) as campus fundraisers.  I’ll keep you abreast of our progress here on The Spork Report.

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15 thoughts on “When Flaming Hot Cheetos + Nacho Cheese = HISD School Lunch

  1. Here’s the truth…HISD makes queso sauce at the new central kitchen. That is the cheese in your picture. The student obviously chose to buy a bag of baked chips and queso separately then combine them in that Texas State Fair-worthy mixture you have in your picture. According to people I talked to, that concoction is featured nowhere in an HISD menu–“a la carte” or otherwise. The student gets an “A” for creativity and probably a little heartburn as well.

    • Yes, lunchlady96, of course. I certainly wasn’t implying that HISD was dousing Cheetos with nacho sauce and calling it lunch (or even offering that mixture as an a la carte item).

      My deep concern, shared by many parents in the district as well as members of the SHAC, is WHY is HISD — which aspires to be a “national leader'” in student nutrition — in the business of selling junk food like Flaming Hot Cheetos to our kids in the first place? Why Rice Krispies treats? Why bright blue and red artificially colored and flavored slushies? Since these foods unquestionably detract from, rather than contribute to, a child’s healthful diet, why is our district making them available? If the answer is that such foods bring in revenue, then we need to ask ourselves, is it ever OK to profit at the expense of students’ health? The answer should be a resounding NO.

    • I work in a district in another state and I am here to verify that what the blogger said happened here is happening in my area also. No- worse. Our district chef has okay’d picking up a bag of chips as a second side when kids get any entree. This means we are serving nachos and chips as standard school lunch. This is not anything picked up at the snack bar. This is something a child receiving free/reduced lunch can get. Wait. It gets worse: because a child can get up to two sides with any entree, it is very common to see kids walking around with a plate of nachos and TWO bags of chips.

      There are nearly ninety kids in my school with type 2 diabetes. This is, IMO, wide scale child abuse for profit.

      • Liz: That’s terrible! But I’m wondering how that meal is even meeting the USDA guidelines? Don’t some of the sides have to be fruit/veg? At any rate, it sounds like a very bad situation.

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