School Lunches: The Picky Eater’s Dilemma

A Eastside Elementary student holds a fresh cucumber slice dipped in ranch dressing, part of one of the nutritious lunches prepared for the students at the Clinton, Miss., school Sept. 12, 2012.  (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

In one school, whenever salad was offered, I never took it, and if one of the lunch ladies deposited it on my plate I’d just leave it there, and toss it in the trash at the end of the lunch period.

In the other school, whenever salad was offered, I’d load my plate with it and eat every single speck, often wishing I could go back for more.

What made the difference between avoiding salad like the plague and devouring it like the delicious, crunchy meal it is?

I admit I’m a ridiculously picky eater. While I am not afraid to try new things, even things as wild as sauerkraut pizza (which, horrifyingly, is actually delicious), I very often don’t like them, and the list of ingredients I generally (but never always) avoid stretches all the way from mayonnaise and sour cream to mushrooms and peanut butter.

I keep trying things I know I don’t like, just in case. Every once in a while I eat a mushroom because hey, you never know. When I was a kid I didn’t like ketchup. Tastes change.

And now that I’m an adult, there’s a certain fairly large class of foods that I don’t care for much but eat anyway, such as green beans. Green beans are good for me, so whenever given the opportunity, say at a buffet, I eat some.

Salad is the only veggie I really like, and by salad I mean actual salad, not cold noodles covered with sauce. (Cold noodles: Another thing I’m not a fan of.) You know, with lettuce leaves and lots of other stuff.

What made the difference in those two school lunch salads?

Simple. One school served only one type of salad dressing: French.

The other school offered a choice of French and ranch dressing.

I’ve always been particular about salad dressings, and for a long time the only one I liked was Italian. My tastes have expanded a great deal throughout the years, to Caesar and ranch and Greek and raspberry vinaigrette and poppyseed and all kinds of other ones, but to this day I can’t abide French dressing.

At one school I never, ever took salad. At the other, I took salad at every opportunity and if salad had been served every day instead of, say, green beans or cooked carrots, I’d have eaten vegetables every single day at school. Romaine and spinach, all filled with nutrients. Crunchy, tasty goodness.

Yes, I probably would’ve topped them with cheese, egg, turkey, croutons and sunflower seeds if given the opportunity, but I’d've taken the lettuce and ranch dressing on its own, too, with thanks, if that’s all there was.

Why all this about my odd eating habits, you might ask? Well, I was reading a story about school lunches, and how kids are often rejecting the veggies and fruits provided in the healthier school lunches. And I have to wonder: are they offering children any choices?

I remember that there were days I ate nothing but a hamburger bun and pickles at school, because they’d serve sloppy joes with green beans and canned peaches. Back then I couldn’t bring myself to eat green beans either, and I hated canned peaches. Had they offered a nice little salad and a plum I’d've eaten my vegetables that day, at least.

I really like the idea of offering kids more healthy food for their school lunches, but I really do hope there are still some options. A plum or a pear. An apple or an orange. Green beans or asparagus. Ranch or French.

It’s great to make kids try new things (often they won’t do it on their own) but over the long term, offering them choices allows them to have some agency and still gets them to the healthier-food goal.

Some people will not ever like French dressing or mushrooms no matter how many times they’re served or how many times they’re tried.

Giving children a choice between two low-fat salad dressings might mean the difference between a rejected little pile of leaves and a clean plate.

2 thoughts on “School Lunches: The Picky Eater’s Dilemma

  1. Wasn’t there a report years ago that the government suggested taking away ranch dressing because it added too much fat to the school lunch – in turn the eating of vegetables almost disappeared. They brought back the ranch.

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