I am soaking up some incredible rays at Indian Shores in Florida this week, so my mind has not exactly been on blogging. But in an effort to catch up on some local news this morning, I was dismayed to read a story about how some school cafeterias in Toronto are hurting from a serious revenue decline due to the new regulations imposed on them by the Toronto District School Board that don’t allow foods that are high in fat, sodium or sugar to be sold in their schools.
The big corporations that operate school cafeterias are complaining of declines of up to 30 per cent. Schools are also in panic-mode because a portion of the profits that operators make go back to schools, which they re-invest into equipment and programs – it is a significant source of fundraising. Some operators have pulled out of schools because of the lack of profitability, leaving students with no cafeteria option. There’s definitely no chance of capturing these students on the healthy side of life: they’re not going to pack a salad for lunch if McDonald’s is just around the corner.
I would hate to see these cafeteria operators play bully and start pulling out of more and more schools – they wouldn’t even deserve an “A” for effort. It’s too easy to whine about declining profits. Effective companies learn to draw on creative forces when they find something is not working. They need to re-frame the situation and ask what they can do differently to turn things around. Chefs like Jamie Oliver – through his Food Revolution movement – have made it a personal mission to make cafeteria food options healthy and tasty so that our youth will be inspired to eat better. He has been so passionate about change and more importantly, helping people see how change can be good.
I get the impression that some people think if we just throw a plate together of quinoa, boiled green beans and a cod fillet, we’ve met the objective of serving healthy food. The bigger part of the challenge is getting kids to eat this. Well, I wouldn’t eat that either! We need passion in school cafeterias, people who have been trained in the culinary field to experiment with flavours, cooking techniques and ingredients. I’m not saying we need to go gourmet – in fact, that would probably turn the kids off even more. But we do need to revolutionize our approach.
I’m not a chef, and I’ve certainly done my share of serving junk to DQ – it’s an easy and convenient option sometimes. But I also know that there are ways to make healthy food taste good in a way that doesn’t cost a fortune. I have to believe that if you are a cafeteria worker, you’ve got to feel better about yourself at the end of the day having served baked sweet potato fries rather than french fries to kids. Going back to serving unhealthy foods to make more money and profits is also easy and convenient, but it’s not right.