Photo |  MCPSS
The Mobile County Public School System’s recipe for shepherd’s pie includes ground beef, potatoes, green peas, sliced carrots, cheese and gravy.

By now you’re all back in class. It’s that moment where you commit, almost like a New Year’s resolution, to whether you’ll bring a sack lunch to the cafeteria or eat the standard-issue food like a good little follower.

Truth is, the cafeteria is good, often really good. I have trouble cooking for four sometimes. Imagine what it takes to cook for hundreds, all while staying within certain health guidelines. These cafeteria workers are unsung heroes of the Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS).

Not everything is a home run, but don’t let that send you to the corner with your brown bag. Mama bends the rules when it comes to health just to make her little Johnny appreciate her more. I sat down and interviewed a former brown bagger turned full-time cafeteria eater and got the real scoop on what the kids eat and don’t eat. I spoke to Lucas MacDonald, eighth grader, Phillips Prep.

Pressed for dirt, Lucas didn’t have a lot of negative things to say. Anything with pulled pork isn’t a favorite. They do a thing with egg rolls, pork and vegetables he isn’t fond of. The cheeseburgers are dry. Other than that, he was stuck.

On the positive side, Lucas had high praise for the potato soup, square pizza and shepherd’s pie. The latter was the
subject of controversy last year when a less than flattering pic popped up on Facebook, prompting MCPSS to post a recipe (and a better pic) that feeds 100. Salisbury steak is polarizing to some students but for the most part is another mark in the “win” category. A steady supply of whole-grain rolls and fresh fruit with each meal makes me feel like a failure as a parent.

But what if you still want to control your own lunch destiny? There are some new developments. Due to an alleged vodka incident last year, older students at Phillips are no longer allowed to bring water bottles. It’s OK for the elementary students (I assume to bring only water).

At Council Traditional, Graham is allowed zero nuts of any kind, but Lucas says although he can’t have nuts people bring peanut butter and jelly every day. If your school is anti-peanut butter, ask if you can have alternative nut butters such as almond or macadamia nut. You’d be surprised what you can grind at Rouses.

There is also the chocolate debate. Students aren’t allowed to bring a chocolate bar to class for snacks in most scenarios but the occasional chocolate chip cookie seems OK. There could be some sort of plot for every kid to bring a cookie and remove the chips to create a giant blob of pure, unadulterated, sugar high-inducing chocolate, but at this point the school system finds that unlikely. When I was in school we sold Caramellos and “World’s Finest Chocolate” as fundraisers, and back then they were twice the size they are now and loaded with almonds.

Be safe. Just eat the cafeteria food. You’ll learn to love it.