Lent is a religious observance that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later, before Easter Sunday. In Lent, many Christians commit to fasting, as well as giving up certain luxuries. During this time many follow restrictive diets. Some may “give up” eating chocolate or junk food.
Some adherents mark the season with the traditional abstention from the consumption of meat, particularly on Fridays. Without meat, Lenten Fridays have been deemed as Fish Friday.
According to a poll by USA Today, 41% of Americans say they have observed Lent. With abstaining from eating meat on Fridays, that leaves a lot of people searching for the perfect fish fry to end the week.
Lent brings major changes to the restaurant industry. During this 40-day period, menus see an increasing amount of fish and seafood. During Lent in 1962, the Filet-O-Fish sandwich debuted at McDonald’s. Some seafood chain restaurants claim sales increase on Fridays by up to 75 percent.
Locally, the Friday night fish fry is a staple year round, but area places that offer them all agree Lent is their busiest time of year.
How do area schools handle the season of Lent?
The School District of Amery serves approximately 172,573 lunches according to last year’s numbers. Menus are planned to meet the nutritional requirements set forth by the federal programs ran under the USDA. “We also look at what commodity and diverted items we have to use up when planning,” said Stacy Nelson, Amery’s Director of School Nutrition.
She said the menu doesn’t really change that much during religious holidays. “Most schools have some sort of meat free entree item offered every day, except for the Elementary, as they don’t have as many choices at that age,” Nelson said.
She explained that according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction- Nutrition, if the schools cater to one religious group, they should be going out of our way to cater to them all.
Nelson said, “The neat thing with the program is that our meals are ‘offer versus serve’, so if there is an item that a student chooses not to eat due to whatever reasons, religious or otherwise, they don’t have to take it. The only item that must be on every child’s tray is at least a half cup of fruit or vegetable and then 2 other items to count as a reimbursable meal.” According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, Offer versus Serve (OVS) is a provision in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast that allows students to decline some of the food offered. The goals of OVS are to reduce food waste in the school meals programs while permitting students to decline foods they do not intend to eat.
“We follow a 5 week cycle menu, so if the menu falls with a non-meat item it is very helpful to those that are practicing that religious belief. Other times I will make a switch if there is a meat free entrée planned earlier in the week,” said Nelson.