What do you think of school lunches

School lunch: Always weigh the noodles nicely

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One can argue about taste, but less about the size of a portion of pasta. And that is exactly what seems to unsettle the kitchen staff in the school canteen to such an extent that their eyes nervously swing back and forth. In front of her, in the large containers at the serving counter, there are kilos of pasta. It's steaming. Earlier, the food was delivered from a large kitchen by van. "Now show me how you measure the size of the portions," says Dorothee Ortelt for the second time - in a friendly tone, but unmistakably in the matter. Ortelt is an employee of the Berlin inspection body for the quality of school meals, an authority that is unique in Germany.

So the two women face each other for a moment in silence. Both in white coats, both wearing hairnets on their heads. It is shortly before eleven in the morning in a Kreuzberg elementary school. The first children are soon pouring in to eat the "mushroom pan with spring onions and spiral noodles", as announced in the menu today. But it has not yet been clarified how big the portion now has to be that is served in the bowl for several children here per table. "Well," says the canteen employee, "we always fill the bowls up to about here." She holds the palm of her hand close to the edge of the white bowl. That is not enough for Ortelt. No weighing? No information on how many ladles should be in a bowl? She takes notes in her pad.

Ortelt is now putting on blue rubber gloves, it squeaks. She reaches for a thermometer with a long needle and holds the probe in the warm food container with the mushroom sauce. The thermometer digitally displays 65.8 degrees Celsius. "All right," she says. "But it could be warmer." The food shouldn't have less than 65 degrees. Ortelt then measures in the container with the pasta: 75 degrees. "Better."

Ortelt can be served separately on different plates with pasta and sauce. Using a digital scale, she weighs exactly 150 grams in plastic bags, "for the Berlin-Brandenburg state laboratory," she says. The salt content of the food is examined there. After all, everyone has different sensory properties: some people find a meal too salty, while others season it. The laboratory sample should provide an objective result.

Raw vegetables every day, ten percent organic

A fine palate alone is not enough to allow yourself a clear judgment about the quality of the food. It takes factual criteria, a lot of them. In 2014, Berlin therefore rewritten the contracts for lunch at the 360 ​​public primary schools. Anyone who wanted to be one of around 20 caterers had to commit to complying with the standards of the German Nutrition Society (DGE).

And they have it all. Fresh raw vegetables every day, at least ten percent organic, no flavor enhancers, no molded meat, no genetically modified foods, no artificial colors and flavors. The menu must show a high variance within a month: a lot of whole grain, less fat, a maximum of eight meat and at least four sea fish. There are precise guidelines for the quantities of dairy products, fruits, vegetables and pulses. The DGE standards are intended to help ensure that children in German schools are offered healthy and tasty food. Except in Berlin, however, the requirements are only binding for providers in Bremen and Saarland, and compliance has so far only been checked in the capital.

Parents' associations and the consumer organization foodwatch have long been demanding that the standards apply nationwide. Most of the state governments, however, which are responsible for school policy, apparently see no reason for this. Foodwatch managing director Martin Rücker complains that it is "a scandal" that these criteria have been in place for a good ten years, but that they are "ignored in most schools". After all, less than half of the children in Germany eat lunch at school so far, also because many parents consider the offerings to be inferior. But how can controls be organized and food improved?