North Shore Organic School Lunches: Controversial Progress

Companies offering organic school lunches have sprouted up along the North Shore.


In most cases, the schools that offer these lunches do so as part of PTO-sponsored lunch programs. Menu items might include creamy mashed potatoes, kid-friendly organic chicken fingers and salad, or whole wheat-crusted pizza and a side of carrots.

“It’s definitely moving in the right direction,” says Sarah Stegner, owner of Northbrook’s Prairie Grass Café and one of the founders of the Green City Market in Chicago. “Food that is delicious and healthy is the ideal.”

Not everyone agrees. In fact, the debate about national health care seems downright tame compared to the invectives hurled at parents across the organic grocery aisle when the topic of changing the lunch program comes up.

“I am aware that there are people who oppose the implementation of this more nutritious, convenient, economical and nearly trash-less hot lunch program, but they don’t tend to be people whose primary priority is providing optimal nutrition for our kids,” says Doug Wexler, a parent at Highland Park’s Ravinia School.

Chicago-based Gourmet Gorilla Inc. and Northfield’s Organic Life LLC are two of the companies providing the lunches. Just recently, Organic Life took over the PTA-sponsored food days at Ravinia School. Organic Life also provides lunches for Glencoe District 35, Montessori schools in Highland Park and Sacred Heart School in Winnetka.

While some parents praise the offerings, local food vendors are not happy that they’ve been ousted.

“It will hurt,” says Bobby Dubin, owner of Highland Park’s Stash’s Restaurant and Grill, which sold lunches at Ravinia Elementary for eight years as part of the food days program. “These programs should stay local. I’d like to think that schools have a loyalty” to local vendors.

Moreover, parents and health experts caution that “organic” doesn’t always mean healthy. An organic hot dog can still pack in 8 grams of fat and 330 milligrams of sodium, which is about a quarter of the government’s recommended daily intake of sodium depending on the child’s age.

Stegner says schools across the country should also go a step further by making nutrition a part of the curriculum.

“Kids need to be empowered and have the tools to make the right choices,” Stegner said. “This is a great start.”

Want to skip the debate and send your kid to school with a homemade lunch? See our article: Back to School Lunch Ideas

To weigh in on the debate about school lunches going organic, post a comment below or on the Make it Better Facebook page.