Did you hear the news? Pizza may soon be considered a vegetable in school lunches. Well, not pizza as a whole, but the tomato paste that rest upon that overly buttered crust. I’ve been campaigning pizza as a generally healthy food for some time, so I’m kind of on board with this. On the other hand, this classification does let food programs fall asleep at the wheel when it comes to meal planning. Intrigued by how this decision might impact cafeteria, I spoke with George Zappas, director of food services at North Hills High School, for some perspective.
“This ruling doesn’t affect us one bit,” George said to me. “I’ve always made sure that the kids get at least a half cup of fruits and vegetables at lunch. In fact, this year we started to let kids have all the vegetables they want. The only thing we limit them on is juice.”
This ruling would let schools count pizza as a serving of vegetable (two tablespoons to be exact), which means that could replace two tablespoons worth of broccoli, carrots, or asparagus. In the end it’s only hurting kids by giving schools a chance to serve them two tablespoons less of actually vegetables.
Apparently, this ruling stems from a series of problems, one being the over regulation and restriction on student’s diets. “How can you tell a kid they can’t eat peas and potatoes in one week?” George asked me. I don’t know, I’d never tell a kid that. I’d tell them they could be the ruler of lima beans and peas if they wanted to!
Schools don’t have a choice when they try to please all involved parties. This nutritional tug-of-war puts schools in a bad light despite having so much hunger to satisfy.“The way we see it, we have to find a balance to give the kids the food they want, give them the food the government wants to give kids, and be financially responsible,” George said to me.
In the grand scheme of things only 15% of a student’s meals come from school lunches in a school year. Is two tablespoons one way or another going to run obesity out of this town? Probably not, especially if the food at home isn’t any better. George, doing his reverse journalist schtick, asked me if I was ever taken to Pizza Hut as a kid. “Absolutely,” I said, “The Book-It program got me more pizza than I can remember.”
“That’s great, but did your parents restrict how many slices you could have?” George asked. “Did they make sure you had a certain amount of vegetables with every slice? Were there any restrictions on your meal?"
While pizza becoming a vegetable is absurd, it’s but a drop in the nutritional bucket. Schools need to serve a certain amount of vegetables and it’s a shame that these outlandish classifications may result in students devouring a restricted assortment of health foods. It doesn’t seem like it’s a problem at North Hills, but other schools may not be as fortunate where vegetables could be cut since pizza performs so well.
Perhaps it’s about time I start my "Teach Responsible Pizzaing” campaign.