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Two Schools One Problem

February 15, 2013

Childhood is a time for fun. Sometimes that fun involves sugar and other forms of junk food. I’m totally on board with that.

Just yesterday I was making chocolate syrup with the kids. One measured out the sugar, the other scooped the cocoa powder. I explained the difference between dry measuring cups and liquid measuring cups. And together we looked at the bottom of the water’s meniscus to make sure we were adding just the right amount.

And once the syrup was cool they enjoyed it on some Blue Bunny all-natural vanilla ice cream. Sure, the milk comes from factory farmed cows and the eggs come from factory farmed chickens, but the ingredients are just milk, cream, sugar, skim milk, egg yolks, natural vanilla extract and vanilla beans. That’s getting pretty damn hard to find nowadays. Even Ben & Jerry’s now has guar gum and carrageenan.

But the stuff they get at school? It’s killing me.

Little Miss Fussy’s story is mostly harmless. She brought home a goody bag of treats, and one of them was a box of Hi-C Smashin’ Wild Berry. That little lady was very excited about her “juice box.”

Except it’s not a juice box. Juice boxes are by definition filled with juice. I don’t know the last time any of you thought about Hi-C, what it is, and what it’s made from. But on the front of the box it’s officially by law a:


But it’s only 10% juice and berry juice specifically makes up less than 1.5% of the contents in the box. Mostly it’s water and high fructose corn syrup blended with a little bit of apple and pear juice topped off with some “natural flavor” and citric acid.

The good news was that it made for a good lesson. I laid ten pennies out on the table. Made a stack of nine, with one off to the side. And I explained to Little Miss Fussy that those nine pennies were everything in the box that were NOT juice. And of the penny that was juice, the berry juice made up about the space on the penny above Lincoln’s head to the edge of the coin.

Then I quoted some lines from her current favorite song, Thrift Shop:

I call that getting swindled and pimped
I call that getting tricked by a business

She lit up. I think she got it. And she’ll get to enjoy her Hi-C too. Except now she knows it’s not a beverage, but rather liquid candy. And she can have it for dessert on a day that she eats an otherwise well-balanced dinner. You know, because the small little box has the equivalent of six and a half teaspoons of sugar. Dang.

Young Master Fussy faced a similar problem of school-based comestibles masquerading as actual food. His school has a lunch room. And we try to make good choices after reviewing the weekly menu. He is limited to two of their lunches a week. The rest he brings from home. And we’ve agreed that none of his purchased lunches from school should contain meat.

We try to not eat meat when we don’t know where it comes from.

As a result his lunch-treats are pretty much limited to mozzarella sticks with marinara sauce and bread sticks, pizza, pancakes, waffles, and stuffed shells with cheese. This week, however, something new and potentially appealing appeared on the lunch menu: Max Sticks with marinara sauce.

To me that sounded simply like a jumbo cheese stick. And I was going to push Young Master Fussy to give it a try. But then I thought I should check out this Max Stick online and see if I could gain any intel.

Bad idea.

I forgot that there is usually a reason why something that sounds like a cheese stick is called anything else but a “cheese stick.” And that’s because it doesn’t quite have as much cheese as you might expect.

Okay. Here are the ingredients taken out of block form so they are easier to read:

Flour blend
– enriched wheat flour (bleached wheat flour, malted barley flour, niacin, iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid)
– whole wheat flour
soy flour
soybean oil
baking powder (sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminum sulfate, cornstarch, monocalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate)
yeast (yeast, starch, sorbitan monostearate, ascorbic acid)
dough conditioners (wheat flour, salt, soy oil, L-cysteine, ascorbic acid, fungal enzyme)
wheat gluten

Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
pasteurized part skim milk
cheese cultures

Shredded Mozzarella Cheese Substitute
oil (soybean oil, partially hydrogenated soybean oil with citric acid)
milk protein concentrate
modified food starch
sodium aluminum phosphate
lactic acid
mozzarella cheese type flavor
– cheese (milk, culture, rennet, salt)
– milk solids
– disodium phosphate
disodium phosphate
sorbic acid
nutrient blend
– magnesium oxide
– zinc oxide
– calcium pantothenate
– riboflavin
– vitamin B-12
vitamin A palmitate

I’ve also learned thanks to Food Service Direct that these products from ConAgra food are:

Made with Ultragrain – a proprietary whole wheat flour with the taste and texture similar to white flour but with all the goodness and nutrition of whole wheat flour! The Max is your exclusive source for pizza items with Ultragrain in School Foodservice Main Menu application CN approved: 2 breads, (1/2 serving of WHOLE GRAIN) 2 meat/meat alternates Varieties: Mozzarella Fits 54 sticks to a pan (bulk) Offer 2 or 4 for a la carte to boost profits! Serve one pizza stick as a fun side item. Performs great out of the microwave! Holds in a warmer for 3 hours.

That and a case of 192 pieces sells for the not-so-shockingly low price of $68.85 or just shy of $.36 a piece. If a school offered four of these 1.93 oz sticks as suggested above, they would be giving their students 640 calories of junk fat and sodium. Specifically, 28g of fat, 10g of saturated fat and 1,640mg of sodium.

After sharing the list of ingredients with Young Master Fussy he demurred from this lunch option and decided to opt for waffles instead.

But now after opening this pandora’s box, I kind of want to know what’s in the waffles.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Eric Scheirer Stott permalink
    February 15, 2013 10:34 am

    Hi-C…..I remember that from the 1960’s, but back then it was a substance that came in a huge can – and a step in growing up was learning how to use a the can opener to poke two holes in the top, and how to pour a glass for yourself without spilling it (much). On occasiod we’d get Hawaiian Punch – and THAT was Liquid Candy!

  2. February 15, 2013 12:07 pm

    I don’t envy school food programs. It’s rough to meet all of the requirements and still afford to feed students. Watching the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution show was pretty eye-opening.

  3. enough already! permalink
    February 15, 2013 2:16 pm

    Wow, profussor! You really should be called proFESSor. Love the way you teach…have you ever thought of going that route?
    I admire your educating your kids to the reality of the “foods” out there. I always had the “5 ingredient” rule. Btw, I do believe Ben and Jerry’s always had those additives, and it was only Hagen das that did not…I always wondered why if Hagen didn’t need them, why b&j did.

    • February 15, 2013 4:14 pm

      This hard core Ben & Jerry’s fan wrote up a comparison a couple years back. It may be so long ago that nobody remembers, but these would seem to be post Unilever “improvements.”

      • enough already! permalink
        February 15, 2013 10:21 pm

        great post. so sad about b&j. as stockholders, we went to several annual meetings in vermont, which was a fun family oriented day with music, stuff for kids to do, and free ice cream all day long for all stockholders. there was also the meeting in which folks could vote and get up and have their say.

  4. Sarah M. permalink
    February 15, 2013 2:41 pm

    “Ultragrain.” Wow. Performs great out of the microwave!

  5. February 15, 2013 10:31 pm

    Hmm.. my comment seems to have been filtered which is a bit strange. I’m going to try again in an abbreviated form. At Lake Ave Elementary School in Saratoga, activist parents have succeeded in making a number of changes in the foods provided to kids. This includes a food lab where they learn about nutrition, and a choice of organic foods from local farms.

    Hope I get through this time… doesn’t seem objectionable to talk about kids and nutrition!

  6. February 17, 2013 2:12 am

    I should have posed that as a question: why would an internet filter find it objectionable to talk about kids and nutrition?

  7. February 17, 2013 11:46 pm

    Holy Sodium Batman

  8. February 18, 2013 11:02 am

    I was a notoriously fussy eater as a child when it came to lunches, and as a result I really didn’t have the most well-balanced diet. I wouldn’t eat cold cuts (all I had ever tried were the nasty, slimy packaged kind), and one can only have so much peanut butter before you get sick of it. I liked hot foods, but I sure as hell didn’t care for most of the foods that were served at school lunches. One fan favorite was “Philly Cheese Steak” day. The stuff they put on top of what they called meat made cheez whiz look appetizing. Just looking at this dish made me want to vomit.

    More often than not, I would get a plate of fries and a bag of doritos, and make up for it at dinner. By senior year, I learned to snack throughout the day (not the healthiest snacks – I did like my doritos back then) and forgo the lunch completely.

    StanfordSteph is right, though – there are limited resources to make this work. If the costs go up, someone will complain. If they move to put more vegetables into lunches (which inevitably are not prepared properly and smell and taste like boiled mush), there is waste and people complain. You could advocate that school lunches be eliminated entirely and everyone is responsible for bringing their own, but that may mean some kids won’t get to eat at all (and I’m not talking about the stubborn kids like I was, either).

  9. jabroni permalink
    March 2, 2013 8:33 am

    I am in a unique position where I get to see a lot of different kitchens through the back door and I can tell you school lunches are a joke. How is it we send our kids to school to learn only to have them sit down to do one of the most important things that they will ever do and fail them? Schools are not worried at all about nutrition. They are looking to provide a service the easiest and cheapest way possible looking to break even or (hopefully) profit. Ask who runs your districts program. Although they all pretty much equally suck, if the district itself is running the program than you are really in trouble. Better if a company like Sodexo or Aramark is in charge.There at least you have people who are in the business of running food operations. Check Schenctady High’s cafeteria. Run by Sodexho. Then go check Saratogas district run offering. Night and day.
    I shouldn’t say all schools, check out Darrow School. The menu at this schools rivals that of many local upscale restaurants. But you get what you pay for.

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