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Back to school, for lunch 

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Fayetteville Public Schools offer an almost overwhelming number of choices for lunch. There are anywhere from three to five different entrees, depending on the school (the higher the grade, the more choices are available); these typically include items such as hamburgers, cheeseburgers, hot dogs, corn dogs, breaded chicken, processed chicken fingers/nuggets/bites, spaghetti with meat sauce, breaded fish or chicken sandwiches, and pizza. Usually some form of potato — either French fries or mashed potatoes — plus a whole-wheat, made-from-scratch roll is served with each, constituting a lot of carbohydrates. Chef salads and deli subs or wraps are also available. Students can choose one or two sides, which are usually a small salad or fruit, either fresh or canned, plus a pint of low-fat milk or chocolate milk.

Though the menu seems slanted towards processed meats such as hot dogs and chicken nuggets, they are baked, not fried, and use low-fat meats. All the buns — hamburger buns, hot dog buns and hoagies — are whole wheat and come from Harris Baking Co., out of Rogers. The mashed potato flakes are low sodium and have no additives.

Some sample meals:

The day I visited Owl Creek School (pre-K through 7th grade) my choices were Tyson chicken nuggets, turkey corn dogs, fish sandwiches or turkey sandwiches. There was quite a variety of sides as well: fresh apples, strawberries, celery, carrots and applesauce.

I chose the chicken nuggets, which came with mashed potatoes and white gravy and a roll, with sides of strawberries, canned pineapple (the applesauce was gone by the time I got my tray), and carrots and celery. The nuggets were dry and dense, but not terrible. The texture of the mashed potatoes was too "perfect" to be made from scratch, which bothers me a little, but they were creamy without being too heavy. The canned pineapple was lower in sugar than the kind I'm used to, which is a good thing. The roll (baked from scratch in the cafeteria) was surprisingly good.

The meal deals I had to choose from at Woodland Junior High School (8th and 9th grade) were spaghetti with meat sauce, cheeseburgers, Papa Murphy's pizza, buffalo tenders or chef salads. This cafeteria didn't seem to have anywhere near the fresh fruit and vegetable options of Owl Creek. The side items included canned fruit salad, fresh apples, a small side salad, cherry crisp, canned corn, canned green beans, seasoned diced potatoes, barbecued chicken, whole-wheat rolls and sliced jalapenos, much of which was left over from the previous day's lunch. Unsweetened iced tea was available for no charge. I chose a chef salad, fruit salad and iced tea. The salad — tomatoes, broccoli, bits of red cabbage and carrots, and of course, iceberg lettuce — also came with white-meat turkey, artificial bacon bits, shredded American cheese, saltine crackers and low-fat ranch dressing on the side. Unfortunately, the lettuce was past its shelf life, brown and slimy around the edges.

Unfortunately, I visited Fayetteville High School (10th through 12th grade) during finals week, after the seniors had graduated, so the lunchroom was apparently winding down. The a la carte line was closed; the only option was the sub/wrap line. FHS has fewer options because it has an open campus, and most students leave during lunch. In addition, there are vending machines available that sell sodas, bottled water and snacks.

Teacher Robin Buff filled me in on the usual cafeteria fare. She said normally there was also the "Around the World" line that offered hot meals like spaghetti; the a la carte line offered pizza, hamburgers or chicken sandwiches, and chicken or steak fingers, usually with mashed potatoes. The sub/wrap line offered American cheese, turkey, ham, chicken, and what looked like salami. Students could add lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, pickles, jalapenos, black olives and basic condiments like mayo, mustard and honey mustard. I chose a wrap, which came in a surprisingly good herb tortilla, with turkey. It was actually quite good; the ingredients were fresh and tasty. It totally filled me up; I couldn't finish the whole thing. The other teachers at the table all agreed that they liked the subs and wraps, too.

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