Bizarre item on CMS lunch menu has parents puzzling and social media buzzing

The Char-Meck-A-Nator sandwich debuted Tuesday in CMS elementary and middle schools.
The Char-Meck-A-Nator sandwich debuted Tuesday in CMS elementary and middle schools.

In the latest twist on school cafeteria mystery meat, parents who checked the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools September lunch menu were baffled by an item on Tuesday’s menu.

Naturally, some of them took to social media seeking answers: What on earth is a Char-Meck-A-Nator?

CMS is glad they asked. The district had a marketing campaign ready to roll out.

“It’s delicious, that’s what it is,” CMS tweeted in response to one such query. “Cheese baked in, ketchup baked on. Like a little meatloaf sandwich.”

The district has a slogan for the new sandwich, which debuted in elementary and middle schools: “Real bits of cheese in every bite!” There’s even a video, with music and a clip of Will Ferrell in “Wedding Crashers” screaming “Ma! The meatloaf!” (For those familiar with the meme, the word that follows is definitely edited out.)

Response on Facebook was mixed. On the negative side were comments that included “absolutely disgusting,” “shame on you,” “this is why I’m vegetarian” and a vomiting emoji.

Another poster was intrigued: “Cool. School lunch commercials. That’s new lol.”

And one gave thumbs up after a taste test: “I just ate it... yum! Kids liked it too. So, ya never know. The test will be the second time they serve it.”

Some wags speculated that the new approach to marketing meatloaf was the result of Superintendent Clayton Wilcox’s decision to hire chef Jody Francisco, the husband of Wilcox’s chief of staff, for a newly created job as culinary development manager. His duties in the $85,000-a-year job include working with school gardens, promoting healthy eating and working to make school meals more appealing.

Actually, the Char-Meck-A-Nator campaign is the brainchild of Margaret Cameron, a dietician and menu planner who does marketing for the CMS child nutrition department. She says the sandwich was taste-tested at the end of last school year, and the vendor suggested finding a clever name.

“ ‘Meatloaf’ was not the word we wanted to use,” Cameron said. “It’s a little antiquated.”

So she combined the district’s name with an idea suggested by Wendy’s Baconator. “We were just hoping the fun name would get some excitement going,” she said. “We didn’t dream it would be this exciting.”

As for parents who don’t think it’s healthy enough, Cameron notes that it meets federal nutrition guidelines and is similar to a cafeteria cheeseburger.

“It’s on a whole-grain bun,” she added.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms