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Fed up with school lunch
March 3, 2010 6:27 AM   Subscribe

Fed Up is a blog by a teacher who has decided to eat the lunch her school serves every day. A Japanese Teacher is doing the same thing.
posted by martinX's bellbottoms (92 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Almost every teacher in Japan, foreign or Japanese, eats the same lunch as the students. It's actually pretty good.
posted by donkeymon at 6:33 AM on March 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


Growing up (literally), I was one of those permanently-hungry teenagers. Maybe school lunches in other places are miserable, but those NYC school cafeteria burgers hit the spot every day.
posted by griphus at 6:34 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:35 AM on March 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


this post on insects and the japanese kindergarten class is also nice...
In August, I found children huddled around a cardboard box just outside the 5-year classroom door. Apparently, a man who works at a nearby recycle shop stumbled on a colony of kabutomushi (rhinoceros beetles), and delivered about two dozen of them in a box as a gift to the nursery school.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:35 AM on March 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


This should be required for administrators. Yes, even for those with special dietary needs. Many kids have special dietary needs too.
posted by DU at 6:36 AM on March 3, 2010 [14 favorites]


When I was in school, I moved around a lot. Almost every year, sometimes two or three times in a school year. I ate many different school's school lunches. The only thing I really hated were the Chimichangas, but everyone else loved those.

The pizza and burgers were delicious.

I did go to one school in a very small town in Texas where all of the bread was home made by one of the lunch ladies in the morning. Oh-em-gee, it was divine.
posted by Malice at 6:37 AM on March 3, 2010


GOOD: What's your favorite school lunch?

MRS. Q: The tex-mex and chili meals were the best. They resemble comfort foods that I enjoy at home. I'm a casserole kinda gal.

posted by three blind mice at 6:40 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is this a new thing where cafeteria lunches look like airline food? We never had lunches in prepackaged containers like that when I was a kid (aside from stuff like fruit cups) - at the very least, the entrees were heated up catering-style and served on the tray.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:44 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Friends of mine set up Real Food for Real Kids here in Toronto. The most amazing part is they aim their services at lower income neighbourhoods/schools because they feel that these kids should get at least one balanced/organic meal a day.
posted by gman at 6:44 AM on March 3, 2010


I was a teacher for a while, and I took lots of school lunch pictures (self link, get yer torches).

I actually really, really liked the school lunch, and I regularly wish that I could just go and plunk down $2.50 and get a fairly well-rounded meal. I mean, it was sort of garbage, but it was tasty, comforting garbage and there was always some fruit, and some vegetables. I ate better then than I do now. Cheaper, certainly.

These lunches look like they are all unbranded frozen meals. Ew.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:47 AM on March 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Neat! Thanks for sharing.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:48 AM on March 3, 2010


(I still miss the 'Mexican Pizza' served at Arundel High back in the early 90s.)
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:52 AM on March 3, 2010


Like backseatpilot, I was interested when I saw this to see how many things looked pre-packaged. I wonder if that's an overall improvement or decline in school lunch quality and variety?
posted by not that girl at 6:55 AM on March 3, 2010


Jamie Oliver, who you may or may not tolerate, did a successful campaign to improve school lunch policy in the UK, and now he will attempt the same thing in the USA.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:57 AM on March 3, 2010 [7 favorites]


"Oh relax kids, I've got a gut feeling Uter's around here somewhere hahahahaha, after all isn't there a little Uter in all of us? hahahaha... hahaha, in fact, you might even say we just ate Uter, and he's in our stomachs... right now! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!... Wait, scratch that one. "
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 6:59 AM on March 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


I miss school lunch terribly. However, the meals on this blog do not look like the school lunches I miss.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:59 AM on March 3, 2010


In the picture it looks like poo. It was not poo!

That was written by a teacher? That reads more like the essay of a 7 year old.
posted by sourwookie at 7:03 AM on March 3, 2010


The meals in the Japanese English teacher's link look like no school lunch I've ever seen before... tofu burgers?? Where do I sign up!?
posted by Malice at 7:05 AM on March 3, 2010


In the picture it looks like poo. It was not poo!

That was written by a teacher? That reads more like the essay of a 7 year old.


When you spend all day speaking so that 7 year olds will understand you, it's hard to stop.
posted by Pollomacho at 7:07 AM on March 3, 2010 [8 favorites]


I went to Catholic school, where the lunches totally rocked. Even during Lent. Hell, especially during Lent - on alternate Fridays we had either fried fish triangle (the really good ones with the faux beer batter) on a bun with macaroni and cheese (the mmmbaked kind with different kinds of cheese and a thick burnt cheese crust) or else grilled cheese sandwiches (lots of butter, nice brown crust) and chicken noodle soup. We often had tuna noodle casserole also, the kind with diced celery and onion and crumbled potato chips baked on top, also with a nice crust of toasted cheese. and don't get me started on the roast turkey loaf, real mashed potatoes and gravy.

but this...this..."lunch" - it looks like an abomination.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:14 AM on March 3, 2010


Assistant Principal in Brooklyn here. When the principal and I opened a new high school last year, virtually none of our students would eat the standard school lunch--and I mean, like, five out of 150 students were eating it. The kids all said it was gross food. So the principal and I took to eating it every day to show the kids it wasn't so bad.

It was gross. Every day.

But I don't think that's why they won't eat it. They are certainly hungry, but I think they don't eat it because it isn't cool. Who wants to be the one kid whose standards are so low as to sink to eating school food? Also, remember that virtually all of our students qualify for free lunch (which is why, city wide, school lunch is referred to as "free-free"), so that eating school lunch is tantamount to announcing, "I'm poor!"

Also, I think it is human nature to mistrust anything that is offered for free. "If they give it away for free, it must not be good." And they're right. It's the economists who are wrong. There is such a thing as a free lunch, for a very broad definition of "lunch."
posted by etc. at 7:15 AM on March 3, 2010 [32 favorites]


Speaking as someone whose parents were both teachers, I'm surprised more of them don't eat the lunches provided. Teachers are a notoriously tight bunch.
posted by jimmythefish at 7:16 AM on March 3, 2010


I went to one school for a year (third grade) that had just moved to a shiny new campus that had a food court instead of a cafeteria, with a Subway and a Pizza Hut. 'Twas a good year for school food.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 7:17 AM on March 3, 2010


No Recess?! I have been substituting here in Oakland for the past two years, mostly in elementary schools (of which there are upward of 40) and I could probably recite which ones limit recesses to ten minutes, which ones go as long as twenty, and that's not counting the one which is increasingly before (not after) lunch. And there is a direct correlation between times spent exercising and the ability to concentrate (posiutive).

No matter what they eat, kids do need freedom to run and play, not to mention fresh air.

Now let me go make a lunch for my own youngest who, like most of the kids at his particular school, has always brought it from home--and no, sadly it will not look like the Japanese English teacher's students' bentos. Something to aspire to.

Thanks for this post.
posted by emhutchinson at 7:18 AM on March 3, 2010


I've done this every day for five years. All the other faculty think I'm insane*, because the food isn't disgusting, but it's not really healthy. More to the point, I'm one of those weird people who think that leaders needs to be willing to do anything they expect their followers to do. Though, unlike the AP above, most of our kids eat the free breakfast and lunch provided, because it's quite possibly the only meals they'll get that day.

But, the stuff is medocre tasting at best. I mean, hot pockets as school lunch? Really? God help us all.

*To be fair, this is probably but only one contributing factor leading to such beliefs.
posted by absalom at 7:26 AM on March 3, 2010


I remember the rectangles of pizza food from junior high. The kind that, if you rolled them up (cheese side in) and squeezed, grease would come gushing out the bottom. I learned the pizza blot technique from that, and I still use it to this day, a handful of napkins become see-through orange, and there's not as much grease on the pizza.

As for Japanese school lunches, some places students bring bentos. Some schools that had bentos did away with them because essentially the mothers had turned bento making into a status war, but only the kids were suffering, so they have school lunches instead. In some elementary schools, students eat in the classroom, and the students are in charge of cleaning after.

As for me, god, I hate fish. I can't stand it. Yet here I live. I've learned, though, through the Japanese school lunch to somewhat tolerate it. When I had to eat with my students, there would always be two choices in the cafeteria. One would inevitably be fish, and the other would be so unbelievably hideous that I would prefer the fish. Sitting with my students, trying to be a good example, I would suppress my ridiculous level of pickiness and clean my plate. So, yeah, there's something kind of good, I guess, about Japanese lunches.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:30 AM on March 3, 2010


The Japanese lunches look like the kind of food that I wish I wasn't too lazy to make every day.
posted by Splunge at 7:31 AM on March 3, 2010


Oh great, thanks for conjuring up memories of the horrors of my school system's food from when I was a child. It always pissed me off so much that the best lunches were ALWAYS on the days that parents were invited to come eat with us. It got to be so bad that I started sneaking home examples of the horrible food we were being fed. Once I showed my parents (who were pretty impressed with how determined I was) they started packing my lunch daily.
posted by strixus at 7:34 AM on March 3, 2010


At the outset, I didn't realize how dramatically this would touch on poverty in the US, underpaid teachers and underfunded schools with unhealthy food, nor did I think (stupidly) that there would be teachers as members of the site who have done it for 5x longer. Thanks for posting.
posted by nevercalm at 7:36 AM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I was interested when I saw this to see how many things looked pre-packaged. I wonder if that's an overall improvement or decline in school lunch quality and variety?

Its very likely that all the lunches for this district are made at a central location, and then are trucked to the individual schools each day.
posted by anastasiav at 7:38 AM on March 3, 2010


(Oh, and dirtdirt, your photos are reaaallllllyy instructive. No torch for this fella, just admiration.)
posted by nevercalm at 7:41 AM on March 3, 2010


Huh. I remember most teachers doing this when I was a kid. I guess that's unusual.
posted by roll truck roll at 7:41 AM on March 3, 2010


The packaged nature of these products means, generally, there is a ton of saturated fat in them, to preserve them for future use. The challenge that most school lunch programs face is that they have a really limited food budget. If they must account for unused/uneaten meals, they may lose even more food budget. Some schools were using USDA commodities to supplement lunches at poorer schools. USDA commodities are not intended to be "sustaining" food and can have very poor nutritional value.

Part of our healthcare problem lies in these meals, coupled with no-recess and tethered to lackluster nutrition/health education.
posted by zerobyproxy at 7:43 AM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think that all my teachers in high-school spent their lunch hour nervously chain smoking in the teacher's lounge.
posted by octothorpe at 7:46 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Nice project, thanks. Have shared it on some Slow Food sites - the organization has been working on a US-wide campaign called Time for Lunch! aimed at getting real food onto school menus.
posted by Miko at 7:47 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


School lunches are a disaster, but let's not forget the damned vending machines. Parents: An inexpensive tube of crazy glue in the dollar/coin slot - do your part to prevent juvenile onset diabetes at your kid's school.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:48 AM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I favorited the comment anyway, because the rest of it was so good, but this:

And they're right. It's the economists who are wrong. There is such a thing as a free lunch, for a very broad definition of "lunch."

is just wrong. Someone has to pay for the lunch. Now, I totally agree that we should be providing the food, a thousand percent, but we should never pretend it's free.

But, man if they won't eat it because of status issues... what the heck do you do about that?
posted by Malor at 7:53 AM on March 3, 2010


Almost all the teachers at my school eat with the students (by choice) and eat the same meals - we have a great food program. I happen to have lunch duty with the second grade which is one of the highlights of my Mondays.
posted by blaneyphoto at 7:55 AM on March 3, 2010


The absolute *shocking* thing for me is the "no recess". Here in Calgary Canada not only are there two recesses and a lunch we have something called "DPA" - Daily Physical Activity for the elementary grades.

My son simply cannot sit still, he walks, dances and jumps nearly all the time - if he didn't have recess then I'm sure that the administrators would be having "talks" with us about certain types of medication and I would be telling them to shove-it.

Back to school lunch - my daughter, who just enterred grade 6 is now allowed to go to the cafeteria and we have definately notice her gain weight. Because it is "new", it is the "cool" thing to do - unfortunately there are not alot of healthy choices. And even if there are, pressure from tag-a-long friends to buy junk and share is nearly overwhelming.

(Though... she seems to have a career in finance/banking. She loans other kids money and then charges $1/day interest until repaid. I've tried to explain the concept of "usury", but hey - mabye she is leading the new economy)
posted by jkaczor at 7:57 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I spent some time reading Fed Up a while ago, and it's becoming more and more clear what a nebulous tangled monster of a problem this is. Poverty, education, nutrition, obesity, and health care. They're all in a bed together created by the USDA, "big Agra", squeezed school budgets, and 2 or 3 parental generations completely ignorant of nutrition.

While I love Michelle Obama's veggie garden and nutrition programs, it seems like a tiny bandaid for such a major problem.

I also wish Ms. Q was a better writer, but if you asked me to blog every single day after work, I don't think I'd do any better.
posted by fontophilic at 8:05 AM on March 3, 2010


Who wants to be the one kid whose standards are so low as to sink to eating school food?

Maybe the kid on my bus who would lick the bottom of your shoe for a quarter. Seriously, is this a problem in other schools? Kids are not eating school food because they're too cool? Or too embarrassed to eat the free lunch? Is it possible your food really does suck that hard? The alternative is that kids in your school have quite serious issues with peer pressure and self-esteem that you should probably be looking into.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:07 AM on March 3, 2010


I'm like... a little bit in love with Mr. Ferguson.
posted by oinopaponton at 8:09 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kibo used to write really funny reviews of school lunch menus on the web (sorry, you'll have to do a text search on each page to find them) cataloging such appetizing wonders as "Taco Patty," "Saus-a-rage," "Chicken Rondolet," "Chicken Fryz," "Piggle Sticks," "Chicken Stripes," "Green Beams," "Taco Nada," "Pull Apart Bread," "Hornet McMuffin" (which violates
trademark law while it stings the inside of your mouth
), "Cheese Puppie w/ El Hombre Chips," "Breaded Beef Fingers," "Sliced Turk," "Taco Tub," "Cheese Pizzadilla," "Walking Taco," "Chicken Hip Dipper w/sauce," "Ground Meat/Gravy," "MAX CHEESE STIX," "Weiner Winks," "Sandwich Salad Cup," "Meatball Bombers," "Chk'n Giggles," "Cuban Grab N' Go," and "Wet Burrito with Montezuma Chips."

Now there's another great example of a complete meal: Some doggie treats, a biscuit, an eighth of an orange floating in Tang, and milk. Plus two napkins for fiber, including the napkin which is tucked under the biscuit to keep the under-biscuit grease from dissolving through the plastic tray.
posted by straight at 8:14 AM on March 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


(Though... she seems to have a career in finance/banking. She loans other kids money and then charges $1/day interest until repaid. I've tried to explain the concept of "usury", but hey - mabye she is leading the new economy)

Just wait until she comes to you for a bailout when the other kids can't pay up. Then you'll know she's ready for the big leagues!
posted by a young man in spats at 8:14 AM on March 3, 2010


But, the stuff is mediocre tasting at best. I mean, hot pockets as school lunch? Really? God help us all.

Will it burn my mouth? It'll destroy your mouth.

hot pockets

I love Jim Gaffigan.

And seriously? We're serving kids hot pockets?!
posted by morganannie at 8:14 AM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


If one of my high school teachers had attempted to eat what the students ate for lunch s/he would have been resigning him/herself to a steady diet of french fries and gravy*, with a coke on the side. No-one ate the "lunch" they served at the counter, so eventually the school opened a separate table for the people who only wanted fries and gravy.

* when you're 16 you can eat pretty much anything and thrive (my wife says her typical high school breakfast was a bag of chips and a coffee *shudder*), but this would kill anyone over the age of 35
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:14 AM on March 3, 2010


When I was in school in the late 80s/early 90s, we had an extremely hands on home ec teacher who listened to us gripe constantly about the bad food in the cafeteria. She went to the administrator in charge of the cafeteria and asked her to speak to the class, and explain the economics of feeding a school. So we learned that the reason we had Mexican pizza once a month was because it was $1.25 per student, and that when you balance out the free lunches and the paid lunches, you can only have the "good" meals so often, and that had to also balance out the price of the "less than desired" but cheaper meals. We worked on a long term class project with a budget and the food choices, and learned the nutritional requirements that you _had_ to serve each day, and then our menu for the month was implemented (within reason).

I don't know about the rest of the grades, but the class I graduated with became conscious consumers in the cafeteria after that, and I think the relationship with the administrator was helpful - we always expressed delight over that crazy Mexican pizza (I swear, it was just a saltine crust) and gave her less grief over some of the other meals. When we got the chance to expand the cafeteria in high school with things like a salad bar and sandwiches, she came to the classes again and talked to us about the economics of why we'd be paying more for certain thngs than others. I thought it was a good base for all of us to understand the economics of nutrition.
posted by librarianamy at 8:18 AM on March 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


Jamie Oliver, who you may or may not tolerate, did a successful campaign to improve school lunch policy in the UK, and now he will attempt the same thing in the USA.

Preview video ('Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution' premieres Friday March 26, 9 - 10 p.m., ET on ABC).

Jamie Oliver's TED Talk: 'How We're Killing Our Kids With Bad Food.' BTW -- he won the 2010 TED Prize, an award granting recipients $100,000.
posted by ericb at 8:30 AM on March 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


So we learned that the reason we had Mexican pizza once a month was because it was $1.25 per student, and that when you balance out the free lunches and the paid lunches, you can only have the "good" meals so often, and that had to also balance out the price of the "less than desired" but cheaper meals.

what a great message. "we're feeding you crap 90% of the time because those damn poor kids are eating up all the food budget."

did you grow up to be a republican?
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:30 AM on March 3, 2010


And seriously? We're serving kids hot pockets?!

What is the difference between a homemade "hot pocket" and an empanada/pasty/calzone/Jamaican meat pie/samosa/knish?
posted by Pollomacho at 8:36 AM on March 3, 2010


That's funny, toodleydoodly, I read the message as "we're feeding you crap because your parents refuse to allow the district to properly fund the school lunch program." But, tomato, tomahto.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 8:40 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


if they won't eat it because of status issues... what the heck do you do about that?

I think it's a behavioral thing. I used to teach in a variety of settings, some of which had good food, and have seen kids respond to food well when the right structures were in place. First, the food simply needs to be of better quality. Second, physical activity sharpens appetite - and with the disappearances of recess, kids are much more sedentary and a little bit lethargic sometimes. Third, when you want kids to eat food, they need to be involved in activities that connect them to their food, both at lunch and in the classroom - they need to be part of the preparation, to think about it, to talk about it, to see it growing and help grow some of it whenever possible, to taste test it, to learn to cook, to experience variety, to meet a food producer, to experiment, to do a rotation working with food in the kitchen. Fourth, behaviors around eating need to be modeled. Is it any surprise kids perceive the food as too low-status when they see that anyone who doesn't have to eat it - school staff, kids with money, kids who can bring their own - doesn't eat it? In settings where I've worked in which adults, teachers and staff, ate with kids, this rejection of food didn't happen on any widespread basis. It was mealtime, everybody ate. Fifth, school food is perceived by kids growing up in a corporate world as unbranded and therefore un-endorsed by a slick marketing machine, unlike the sodas and packaged foods from convenience and grocery stores. Those foods are presumed to be superior largely because of commerical messaging, and that power can only be countered by the critical thinking that causes one to re-evaluate that messaging by comparing image and reality, challenging truth claims by looking for evidence, revealing the facts, and looking at the causes and effects of the industrial food system - fodder for curriculum from a very young age onward.
posted by Miko at 8:41 AM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


* when you're 16 you can eat pretty much anything and thrive (my wife says her typical high school breakfast was a bag of chips and a coffee *shudder*), but this would kill anyone over the age of 35

For a period of time in high school, my friends and I got breakfast at the Quik Chek on the way to school in my friend's '76 Chevy Nova. My breakfast of choice? An Orangina and a Skor bar, or a buttered kaiser roll.
posted by Miko at 8:45 AM on March 3, 2010


Pollmachio: I assure you, it's not a "home-made hot pocket". It's just a (non-name brand) hot pocket in a plastic wrapper.
posted by absalom at 8:50 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Between this and that school lunch tumblr blog, I'm always surprised by how much disposable packaging school lunches use these days. Everything in plastic/cardboard/styrofoam. My elementary school didn't have a kitchen, but the lunch ladies would plate the hot lunches for us on actual plates.

I still miss my elementary school's taco pie.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:52 AM on March 3, 2010


Yeah, I had a similar experience to etc.'s; I worked in a school in Southeast DC where the vast majority of kids received free lunch (and many of them received free breakfast as well). For a while I took to getting my lunch from the cafeteria because it was cheap and simple, but it was also really bad and a lot of the kids just wouldn't eat it. To be honest, it was sort of hard to blame them because it was just so terrible, but they were getting virtually no other food so it affected both their behavior and their development. You can't concentrate if you're that hungry and they weren't getting the nutrition or even the basic calories they needed. Bad school lunches can be a much bigger problem than the jokes my friends and I made about them in middle school and it's not just a "these kids today are so spoiled" problem.

Not that I think anyone here is saying that it is, but that can be an issue in addressing these problems.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:55 AM on March 3, 2010


It's also a little hard to rely on one's memories of school food from even ten or twenty years ago; it's always been fun to joke about, and I can vouch that it wasn't amazingly good in the 70s or 80s either, but it has been on a long and notably steep decline since then - a decline which started a pretty long time ago. I've been considering the idea of doing a research project on school lunch history, but not sure I'll ever get around to it - however, I've read a lot of school menus and manuals from the 30s and 40s and the difference in quality is quite clear. Kitchens in those days were actual kitchens, producing food mostly from whole ingredients, and serving a varied, if somewhat caloric and starchy by our standards, diet. Today's school food is increasingly controlled by the commodities market in collusion with the USDA, budgets are being cut, processed and manufactured food pushed at the system, and many school kitchens do not even have basic cooking equipment - only convection ovens for reheating. It has been getting worse, not staying the same.
posted by Miko at 9:03 AM on March 3, 2010


I'm more disturbed by the lack of recess. How can this be allowed? The parents should be up in arms at the school board.
posted by jb at 9:04 AM on March 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I so want to be a Japanese elementary school student right now. Playing with beetles and eating tofu sounds a lot better than grant performance reports and trying to finance a mortgage.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:05 AM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


I used to listen to 91.7 KALW every morning and the DJ would read the daily lunch menu for the SF Unified School district.

100% of the time (honest, I can't remember a single exception) the vegetarian option was grilled cheese, macaroni and cheese, cheese burrito, or cheese pizza. (Check the link. It's mac and cheese.)

TRUE STORY.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:08 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


And fwiw, I loved school lunches, but I didn't become vegetarian until after school. It would have been very difficult in high school.

I'm more disturbed by the lack of recess. How can this be allowed?

Some people blame George W. Bush and NCLB.

I'm starting to see a bounce the other way, toward a shorter school year with more emphasis on physical activity. Let's hope, for my kid's sake.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:19 AM on March 3, 2010


I definitely don't remember school lunches looking like this when I was a kid. The elementary school lunches in my area (Kanawha County, W.Va.) were awesome - all homemade, except for rectangle pizza Friday. The best days were pepperoni roll days and ice-cream-scoop-of-mashed-potatoes day. They also made homemade yeast rolls every single day.

Sidenote: The pepperoni rolls were amazing - every single person I know who went to a Kanawha County school still talks about them to this day, 15+ years after leaving elementary school, because they were THAT GOOD. In fact, I actually emailed the Kanawha County school board and asked for the pepperoni roll recipe a few years ago, and they sent it to me. It was one of the best days of my life.

I am actually curious if this is what school lunch looks like now, or if those cooks are still churning out pepperoni rolls and mashed potatoes everyday.

Part of me really wants to watch the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution show, because I'm interested in the food culture of this country. Unfortunately, I went to college in the town where he filmed that show. From the previews of it, the show has been edited to make it look like all of the citizens are stupid, backwater idiots who don't know what a tomato is. So great. Thanks for taking away my alumni pride, Jamie Oliver.
posted by kerning at 9:26 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


In fact, I actually emailed the Kanawha County school board and asked for the pepperoni roll recipe a few years ago, and they sent it to me. It was one of the best days of my life.

Well, you can't say things like that and then not share with the class!
posted by Salieri at 9:35 AM on March 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


We had no school lunches in elementary school -- you either brought your own or went home for lunch. My high school cafeteria didn't serve full blown meals -- it was all a la carte. The only things I ever bought were fries & gravy ($1.25), pizza ($2), Jamaican beef patties ($1), and cookies ($1). A can of pop was also $1. That was 20 years ago, no idea what it costs now.
posted by emeiji at 9:42 AM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oooooo...school lunches. Pet peeve alert.

My four kids have all attended (3 graduated, so far) schools in large, well-funded suburban district in the northeastern US. This being the case, I've learned a lot about school lunches, as well as the various providers of these meals.

Lunch ain't cheap, and with four to feed, I opted for the infinitely more economical and healthy option: I made and packed lunches for all (now down to one). I mentioned this once to the principal of our senior high school, went to the same gym. He immediately commented that this was a very smart move, as the food service contracted by the district served unhealthy crap. He noted that this really struck home every time he'd see a (increasingly typical) 250-lb. high schooler loading up a tray with pizza, cookies, pies, soft pretzels, etc., and then washing it down with a high-fructose corn syrup-laden drink before heading to a Phys Ed class that doesn't require him/her to do anything strenuous or shower afterward.

Many of our "Blue Ribbon" schools are quick to point to their standardized test scores, graduation rates, athletic achievements and other accolades, while at the same time setting up many of their students with a lifetime of physical failure by providing sub-standard meals. Our districts uses Chartwells as its vendor, and the food pretty much sucks. Ironically, my daughter went away to university in Montreal this year, only to find that the on-campus meal plans were handled by Chartwells also. She's re-named it Shartwells.

And don't get me started on the school districts accepting contracts to install soda machines.

We mandate XXX number of school days each year, require teachers to gain extra certifications and degrees, and agonize over test scores, install artificial turf on sports fields and require extensive "health education," yet we cut some very serious and costly corners on nutrition and physical education.

The future is here, and it's pretty fat and unhealthy.
posted by VicNebulous at 10:11 AM on March 3, 2010 [4 favorites]


Aw, you can memail me! I'll totally share with the class.
posted by kerning at 10:40 AM on March 3, 2010


The future is here, and it's pretty fat and unhealthy.

But, hey, it tests well - OR ELSE!
posted by Pollomacho at 10:42 AM on March 3, 2010


what a great message. "we're feeding you crap 90% of the time because those damn poor kids are eating up all the food budget."

You would have preferred, what, that they just lie instead?

Federal funding for school lunch programs sucks; this necessarily means that you either serve really awful, cheap food to everyone in order to make the meals cost less than the Fed's chip-in, or serve slightly-less mediocre food to everyone and use some of the money from paid lunches to subsidize the cost of the free ones. The cafeteria in question apparently took the latter route, which strikes me as making the best of limited resources.

It's good that they were upfront about exactly why they were serving what they did. (When I was in elementary school I just figured it was due to some sort of conspiracy, or maybe a need to use up the meat byproducts that Purina wouldn't accept. A presentation from one of the cafeteria managers showing how they budgeted and planned for lunch would have been really interesting.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:52 AM on March 3, 2010


It was gross. Every day.

But I don't think that's why they won't eat it. They are certainly hungry, but I think they don't eat it because it isn't cool.


Well, did you try serving good food? It seems like a big oversight to make a whole theory about social status before addressing the fact that the food is disgusting.

Personally, one of the high schools I attended had fantastic food. Decent hot lunch, nice salad bar, a good-quality sandwich bar, a hot-food (like spicy chicken sandwiches) bar, nice snacks, etc. Everyone ate that food, I can't think of any friends who regularly bought bagged lunches unless they had a special diet. I wish I could eat there forever.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:55 AM on March 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


I did go to one school in a very small town in Texas where all of the bread was home made by one of the lunch ladies in the morning. Oh-em-gee, it was divine.

I grew up in one of those small towns, and those damned yeast rolls are still my gold standard for bread. They were fabulous. You started smelling them at about 9:00 every morning.

Looking back, I think our school district actually had pretty good food, all things considered. At least when you compare it to all the nuggetized crap they serve kids today. Chicken fried steak was a weekly offering, as was "BBQ on a bun," and enchiladas, and real, actual chili. Banana pudding for dessert on Fridays. However, I guess they had to balance out those relatively expensive things, because we also had hot dogs in barbecue sauce every-other week. They squeaked when you bit into them. But hey, they were in barbecue sauce and they were served with awesome yeast rolls, so there you go.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:59 AM on March 3, 2010


My Chicago Public School didn't offer lunch; we just brought our own. The local public school where I live now offers free lunch to everyone, which is evidentally rare and something the principal worked hard to get. She did it because otherwise only the poorer children would get free lunch, which means standing in a different line and all that, increasing the opportunity for them to be ostracized.

Of course, that's elementary school. In high school, I rarely ate the school lunch, opting instead to leave campus and eat at the local arcade that served pizza pockets. In retrospect, I'm pretty sure those were worse than anything the school was dishing up.
posted by davejay at 11:02 AM on March 3, 2010


In my K-8 and high schools (Edison School and Hammond High School, Hammond Indiana), the teachers either brought their lunches or they ate what the cafeterias served. Every day. Nobody blogged about it... and even if blogs had existed then, they wouldn't have, because every almost every damn teacher did this. It's not remarkable. At all.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 11:27 AM on March 3, 2010


etc. wrote:

"It was gross. Every day.

But I don't think that's why they won't eat it. They are certainly hungry, but I think they don't eat it because it isn't cool."

I have to say that I'm appalled. I note that you didn't in fact mention that you made any attempt to fix the food up. Your argument seems to be, "There's no point in serving them edible food because they're too dumb to eat it."

I'm an ex-kid myself, and as I remember it, I was always ravenously hungry by the time lunch came. The only times I didn't eat all the food I got was some days when I was under the British School Lunches program, which could be pretty vile - and I'd be pretty miserable for the rest of the day.

I find it very hard to believe that hunger wouldn't trump coolness if people in your school were actually doing their jobs and feeding them something tasty and healthy.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:39 PM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]




On the subject of fries and gravy, during highschool I gained about 15lbs on that diet, but shed it almost instantly as soon as I stopped. And it had a lot more to do with my relative poverty- my babysitting stipend/allowance was $20 a week, fries n' gravy was about $3.50 and the cost of a salad was identical. When I say salad, I mean a cup of anemic iceberg lettuce, carrot shavings and a half a tomato, not exactly enough calories to get anyone anywhere.

I was about 17 when I had the maturity and organization to regularly pack my lunches. Parental help in this was non-existant.
posted by Phalene at 1:53 PM on March 3, 2010


I'm an ex-kid myself, and as I remember it, I was always ravenously hungry by the time lunch came. The only times I didn't eat all the food I got was some days when I was under the British School Lunches program, which could be pretty vile - and I'd be pretty miserable for the rest of the day.

I find it very hard to believe that hunger wouldn't trump coolness if people in your school were actually doing their jobs and feeding them something tasty and healthy.


No way, man. In my experience, etc. is exactly right. I was on the lunch assistance program as a kid, so I would have received a free lunch for simply presenting a lamenated card to the lunch lady. Of course, all the kids knew what that card meant, so I refused -- REFUSED -- to ever use it, for fear of being seen as poor. Literally, for years, I would come home and lie to my mother about whether I had eaten that day.

Even if I wasn't going to be made fun of directly for taking the free lunch, I wasn't about to get that look from my friends or, godforbid, a girl I liked. So that food could have been horrible or it could have been magnificent -- it wouldn't have mattered. To this day, I don't have any "school food" memories because of it. "Coolness" didn't enter the equation -- like adults, kids have pride and kids feel shame, and no rumbling belly was going to overpower those feelings back then.
posted by Amanojaku at 2:18 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Reading these articles, I feel fairly lucky about both my own school-provided lunches and those of my (now-grown) daughters. Only a year (~1978) in one district somewhere in Corona, CA did we have pre-packaged meals; bland tasting, cheaply made, small portions. The rest of my childhood in Buckeye, AZ provided school-made meals that were at worst plain during the Reagan years but still offered tasty meals and filling meals at many times. Since we had little or no food at home for much of my childhood, these school meals were a godsend to my mother solely supporting five (or more) children on her own. My daughters grew up in districts I chose specifically for the schools, even if I had to live in the poorer sections of the chosen areas. They often had spectacular options for meals and, when both were self-chosen vegetarians, there was plenty of options at the salad bar (in grade-school!) I hadn't really considered that to be a major benefit of the schools until now; I had just thought school lunches improved over the years.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:25 PM on March 3, 2010


Additionally, I had the card. I was hungry. It's not as if everyone in that small town didn't already know we were dirt poor.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:26 PM on March 3, 2010


I was on the lunch assistance program as a kid, so I would have received a free lunch for simply presenting a lamenated card to the lunch lady.

My sister went through almost the exact same experience. Weirdly, I had no problem taking free lunch as a kid--but to this day, I'm not someone who can skip a meal without becoming a huge, grumpy monster.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:27 PM on March 3, 2010


My son is in elementary school, and the first thing that struck me when be brought home a lunch menu was the number of brand names. Today he's having "Pizza Hut Pepperoni Pizza or Cheese Pizza." Yesterday's desert was "Keebler Graham Bug Bite Snack." They also have "Smucker's Snack'n Waffle w/Yogurt," "Tyson's BBQ Chicken Drumstick w/Rice," and others of that ilk.

He does get two recesses a day, so it's not all bad.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:52 PM on March 3, 2010


which means standing in a different line and all that, increasing the opportunity for them to be ostracized.
It seems like a food stamp sort of problem (embarrassed to use them). Some sort of technical solution should be possible: have school debit cards for the cafeteria, and the free lunch can somehow be applied to the kids account.
More applications: kids don't have to carry cash, and you could hook it up so there is a record of what that kid bought and the parents can even see it.

Expensive to implement, but it seems like giving out free lunches to everyone costs money too.
posted by jacalata at 3:08 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


My dad packed me a turkey sandwich, yogurt, and fruit every single day throughout my school years. I'm eternally grateful for that -- school lunch would have meant standing in line for half an hour to get a sloppy joe and tater tots. Pretty much all my friends either brown bagged it too, or just ate when they got home.

Is there any particular reason a school can't serve a turkey sandwich, yogurt, and fruit in a paper bag?
posted by miyabo at 3:39 PM on March 3, 2010


My sister went through almost the exact same experience. Weirdly, I had no problem taking free lunch as a kid--but to this day, I'm not someone who can skip a meal without becoming a huge, grumpy monster.

Oh, yeah. I'm totally like that, too ... now.

I know not every child is a lil' tower of misplaced dignity like your sister and I were, but etc.'s comment hit the nail on the head, I think. I really have no idea how I would destigmatize lunch programs to that kind of kid.

On Preview: jacalata's lunch debit card idea is a good one.
posted by Amanojaku at 4:08 PM on March 3, 2010


Parents: An inexpensive tube of crazy glue in the dollar/coin slot - do your part to prevent juvenile onset diabetes at your kid's school.

You know what's gonna happen to you? You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola Company.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:14 PM on March 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


For at least a couple of years when I was in grade school, every kid had an index card with their name and number that they had to present to the cashier at lunch. The number was supposed to secretly encode eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch. It was common to prepay for a week of lunches at a time, so in theory it was possible to get free lunch without the other kids knowing.

One day I noticed the paper taped to the cash register in plain sight: 1 - 299 free, 300 - 399 reduced, 400 - 599 paid. After that I felt a little guilty when it was my turn to pass out the cards to the class before lunch, because I didn't really feel like it was my business knowing who was on free lunch. Oh well, at least they tried to make it somewhat discreet.
posted by komilnefopa at 5:49 PM on March 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


No way, man. In my experience, etc. is exactly right. I was on the lunch assistance program as a kid, so I would have received a free lunch for simply presenting a lamenated card to the lunch lady.

Yeah, clearly having a public mark of getting free lunch is an issue. But etc. was saying that no one, including students who had to pay, would eat the lunch because it's uncool.

When etc. admitted that the food is gross, that just seems like hearing hoof beats and thinking zebras.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 9:43 PM on March 3, 2010


(I still miss the 'Mexican Pizza' served at Arundel High back in the early 90s.)

Whoa. I went to Severna Park.


It was cooler to eat school lunches than bring your lunch when i was in school. The popular kids were devil-may-care and ate the official lunch. Those of us with with our homemade sandwiches and thermoses were dorks.

I thought the food was pretty unhealthy defrosted slop when i was in school, but apparently it got worse?
posted by desuetude at 10:07 PM on March 3, 2010


I feel it's necessary to record that one of the frequent items in rotation in my elementary school was called "Wiener Wink". It was a slice of white bread with a square of American cheese, folded along its diagonal around a standard hot dog.

NO RECESS
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:25 PM on March 3, 2010


Here in Calgary Canada not only are there two recesses

Two Recesses?!
Most awesome school ever! (says my eight-year old self)
posted by madajb at 11:43 PM on March 3, 2010


In Toronto in the 80s we had 2 recesses and 45 minutes outside at lunch. I always thought this was universal.

That said, we had no food sold in the school at all -- just milk, and that was organised by the teachers. So school lunches are an equally foreign concept as not having recess.
posted by jb at 5:52 AM on March 4, 2010


Federal funding for school lunch programs sucks; this necessarily means that you either serve really awful, cheap food to everyone in order to make the meals cost less than the Fed's chip-in, or serve slightly-less mediocre food to everyone and use some of the money from paid lunches to subsidize the cost of the free ones.

There's a third way: you actually raise the funds needed to serve better food to everyone at no cost, therefore increasing this part of the school budget, therefore needing to build strong support in your community for an increased school budget - or making cuts elsewhere.

I agree that the special-ticket stigma is so easy to work around it's pathetic that it's not happening. At my middle school, we visited an office window to get lunch tickets. Either you paid, or you were checked off the list for free/reduced. We all got the same damn ticket and stood on the same line and turned it in at the same lunch counter. Simple solutions.

  • The Food Timeline on American school lunch history, with some school cafeteria menus past.
  • USDA page on the National School Lunch Program (it really expanded quite a bit as a result of World War II with the National School Lunch Act of 1946, when about 25% of attempted recruits to the Armed Forces were rejected for health reasons, many of them nutrition-related: missing teeth, underweight, etc. Of course, it straight out admits that it will also push U.S. commodity crops: one purpose of the Act was "to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food, by assisting the States, through grants-in aid and other means, in providing an adequate supply of food ").
  • The Food Museum's online exhibit School Lunch.
  • Retro Housewife has a menu archive including a lot of school lunch menus from the 1940s and 1950s
  • Chef Ann Cooper, Renegade Lunch Lady
  • Two Angry Moms, a movie and related media that documents a parent's investigation of what's going on in school kitchens.

  • posted by Miko at 6:32 AM on March 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


    ... Low Fat Toasted Cheese
    on Wheat Bread ... how bout a vegetarian option with vegetables

    posted by mrgrimm at 8:27 AM on March 4, 2010


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