ONCE upon a time, there was an uproar over school lunches.
Reporters stood by cafeteria trashcans and watched as scandalous amounts of food were being dumped by picky young eaters.
These meals were subsidized by taxpayers, mind you, and the ungrateful brats weren't eating it. Shocking.
Meanwhile, a big shift was occurring in society. More moms were taking jobs outside the home and finding less time to prepare meals from scratch.
Adjustments were needed in grocery shopping lists for home and school, and the food industry responded.
Flash forward a few decades.
Again there's an uproar over school lunches, in Kanawha County and elsewhere.
Kids are refusing to eat again, and school cooks are thrown for a loop.
The government, always there to take care of us, has jumped onto the anti-convenience food bandwagon. There are new rules for school cooks.
The quick-fix items preferred by kids aren't good for them. They taste good because they're loaded with one or more of the no-no's — salt, sugar and fat.
So cooks are being told to prepare more meals "from scratch," and they're being handed recipes calling for less of the evil substances.
Which only sounds like a good idea.
Low-salt mashed potatoes? Baked chicken with chili powder sprinkled on top?
Please pass the ketchup.
Ketchup is fat-free but contains both sugar and salt.
In the Reagan era, the government actually tried to classify ketchup as a vegetable. Now it's frowned upon.
But not by kids.
There's a children's story about a mom who grew tired of her kids whining for ketchup on everything. So she began serving it three times a day, in many forms, on everything.
This tactic worked for the storybook mom. The kids stopped annoying her about ketchup.
The book was getting at a law of nature. When it comes to food, kids can be downright weird.
Have you ever tried to feed one?
Every fall, women's magazines run articles about ways to jazz up home-packed school lunches.
They suggest exotic concoctions like cream cheese, grated carrots and raisins. Moms are advised to spread such nutrient-packed mixtures on tortilla shells, roll them up and slice them into cute little sandwich alternatives.
When my children were small, I would read the articles and wonder whose kids would eat that stuff. Into my children's lunch boxes would go the same old peanut butter and jelly on white bread. I might optimistically add fresh or canned fruit, cut-up veggies and then, because I was a softie, two small cookies.
In the evening I would open the lunch boxes to find much of this meal in a disgustingly altered state — mashed or spilled but largely uneaten except for the cookies.
Eventually I gave up, told the kids to eat the school meals and hoped for the best.
So my sympathy lies with the Kanawha County cooks.
Like all cooks, they want to see people enjoy the meals they prepare. Most have children of their own, so they realize empty bellies aren't conducive to learning.
It has to be frustrating to serve food that students refuse or pitch.
The solution, of course, lies in gradual change and balance.
This is easier said than done.
I can attest to this as I walk a mile in a cook's shoes — or hairnet, as the case may be.
In trying to cut back on salt in my own home, I discovered "no salt added ketchup" on the grocery store shelves.
I was leery but finally bought some. A taste test revealed it wasn't bad.
Then I read the label more closely. The new ketchup contained an ingredient called "AlsoSalt," which is potassium chloride. Regular salt is sodium chloride.
I won't debate the science, but a little googling steered me clear of potassium chloride.
Food label reading is interesting. Think you should opt for low-fat sour cream or cookies? Prepare to accept higher levels of sodium or sweeteners.
When one evil substance is reduced, another often is increased. If you buy the notion that all are bad for you, you may find yourself with tasteless food.
While there's no doubt reducing the use of convenience foods and "cooking from scratch" can result in more nutritious foods, this has to be difficult in a school setting.
With government clamping down, kids turning up their noses and taxpayers leery of waste, I wouldn't want to be a school cook these days.
If you spot one, give her a hug.
Friend is editor and publisher of the Daily Mail. She may be reached at 348-5124 or nan...@dailymail.com.