School lunches; bad food
December 4, 2002 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Not the Italian dunkers again! Suffer the little children. School lunches are awful anywhere in the world but this is just sad. Shouldn't education include food? Why are obesity, gastronomic ignorance and downright bad taste (including the ersatz "foreign" dishes) inculcated at such an early age in America?
posted by Carlos Quevedo (54 comments total)
good consumerbots must be trained from a very early age. and there is profit in obesity-inducing, gastronomically ignorant bad taste. why do you hate america so much?
posted by quonsar at 1:53 PM on December 4, 2002

That is soo sad. I'm thoroughly depressed now. Especially since pictures are normally made to look better than the real thing. Why do schools find it so difficult to make healthy and easy food for kids??
posted by widdershins at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2002

some of that food looks ... freshly fucked.
posted by donkeyschlong at 1:59 PM on December 4, 2002

I've always theorized that the popularity of the american fast food chain Krystals is a direct result of the shitty food from school cafeterias.

If you're unfamiliar with the Krystal 'sandwich,' it is essentially the same square-baked bread served in Cafeterias, with a wafer thin meat product that has the texture and durability of Gumby. In its defense however, it comes with a pickle and a spot of ketchup.

It is also the fucking nastiest shit in the world, and people buy them in dozens. Usually while drunk.
posted by Stan Chin at 2:00 PM on December 4, 2002

I don't. I love America. And I like real American food very much. But school lunch menus (a lot online) seem to come from nowhere. I realize they're very cheap but there's nothing fresh, nothing nutritious, nothing that doesn't depend on sauces. Also, for a foreigner (Argentinian) it's strange that the meals are all individual - each kid gets his taco or burger - and that's there's no communal cooking, as is the norm of school lunches everywhere in the world. All the food seems to be pre-made and frozen. Does any real cooking go on? it doesn't look like it.
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 2:02 PM on December 4, 2002

It's not any worse than what my kids get. (Note how Thursday's roast pork has an asterisk, indicating that it "may contain pork".)
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:02 PM on December 4, 2002

why do you hate america so much?

Who knows... but I will say this. I had the pleasure of visiting B.A. Argentina for a bout a week a few years ago. Honestly, I've never seen a population (at least in the city I suppose) of more beautiful, gorgeous, good-looking, fit people in my life... men and women alike. I could hardly concentrate while walking the downtown shopping district. I saw ONE person while I was there that I could say was fat. I don't know what that means... but DAMN those women were ridiculous. I can't wait to go back.

anyway... sorry.
posted by Witty at 2:04 PM on December 4, 2002

Dear God, not the Italian Chicken sandwich!
posted by pizzasub at 2:05 PM on December 4, 2002

I note with amusement that the junior high schools' Thursday pork roast apparently contains no pork.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:06 PM on December 4, 2002

there's no communal cooking, as is the norm of school lunches everywhere in the world

Communal cooking? That's interesting, I've never heard of that in schools. What exactly happens? How much time out of the day does it take? Are you really learning to cook or what? And is it different in different countries? Non-Americans, help me out here.
posted by JanetLand at 2:08 PM on December 4, 2002

In New Zealand, you make your own lunch, or your parents make it for you. Otherwise you have to buy food from the tuckshop, which will probably sell filled rolls, pies, and fruit.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:14 PM on December 4, 2002

Oops, no - I meant cooking for a community; not the community cooking. You know, making big quantities of a nice stew, a side of beef, a savoury rice, bouillabaisse.

As for pictures are normally made to look better than the real thing, I had to laugh when I saw what the school suggests we do with the photographs.
posted by Carlos Quevedo at 2:14 PM on December 4, 2002

Clear evidence that allowing cameras in school lunchrooms is unamerican.
posted by freebird at 2:15 PM on December 4, 2002

Today, I thought I ate a sandwhich for lunch. Turns out it was meat and cheese between a couple of unsliced Italian Dunkers. I hardly noticed the difference. Next week I am going to take a page from Crash's kids' school: pork tacos, pork pizza, and pork spaghetti. And then, of course, I'll have the no-pork pork roast.
posted by samuelad at 2:16 PM on December 4, 2002

"Does any real cooking go on? it doesn't look like it."

Here, the cooking is all done at a central location, and the food is sent to the individual schools on a weekly basis, where it just needs to be heated each day. This removes the need to have a huge kitchen (and accompanying staff) at each school, which supposedly saves us a hell of a lot in taxes (even though my county commissioners want to hit us with a 138% property tax increase this year anyway.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:18 PM on December 4, 2002

Oops, no - I meant cooking for a community; not the community cooking.

Oh. Darn, I thought I was going to hear about something really neat that I never knew existed. Oh well.
posted by JanetLand at 2:19 PM on December 4, 2002

Whoops. Forgot the link to the central location.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:19 PM on December 4, 2002


Italy: right next to the cafeteria where the kids eat there usually is, very simply, a big kitchen (how big depends on how many kids attend the school, of course) and they cook your food there, right before you eat it. Usually menus are very basic: pasta or rice (with butter and grated cheese or tomato sauce), and after that meat or fish with veggies on the side (always fish on fridays, it's a Catholic country). Fruit. Simple as that

My personal review: food kinda sucked, I don't miss it, but yeah, the pics in the Carlos and Crash links look much, much worse than the stuff I ate
posted by matteo at 2:21 PM on December 4, 2002

berkeley public schools, as you might imagine, have some pretty unique lunch programs, which, none the less, seem to fare no better (despite a hand from the esteemed alice waters!)
posted by fishfucker at 2:23 PM on December 4, 2002

Matteo, what you described sounds like a gourmet meal compared to the average American school lunch. I moved to the US from Europe at 14 and was shocked to see what they serve kids here. To make a very obvious point: no wonder Americans are at the forefront of the obesity and healthproblem fronts. Unfortunately, the rest of the world is catching on quickly...
posted by widdershins at 2:27 PM on December 4, 2002

In my hometown, the Italian Dunkers were made with hotdog buns and melted yellow cheese. And giant dishes of meat sauce. Mmmmm, that was good eatin'.
posted by subgenius at 2:33 PM on December 4, 2002

Interesting that Cheese Filled Pizza Sticks and Cheese Filled Bread Sticks seem to be exactly the same picture with a cleverly photoshopped caption.
posted by Dillenger69 at 2:37 PM on December 4, 2002

Talking about central locations, in BC we are moving towards providing hospital food across the province -- this is a province the size of the entire US east coast, folks, a tenth the size of the entire USA -- all from a single kitchen.

Thought hospital food was icky when cooked locally? Try it when it was cooked yesterday and then shipped a thousand miles.

(But, hey, we're going to do the same damn thing with hospital laundry: ship from all over the province to Vancouver, and then from Vancouver to Calgary, Alberta, where it'll be laundered. Yeppers, a caravan of truck rigs all racing along carrying biohazardous linen! Good thinking!)

posted by five fresh fish at 2:47 PM on December 4, 2002

i actually enjoyed the food i usually got in the school cafeteria (admittedly, i went to private schools, mostly). chicken fingers, tater tots, etc... mmm... about the only time i ever considered the food crappy was around lent. i'm all for grilled cheese and everything, but you can only have so much cheese pizza, and fish should never be something served in any school cafeteria. maybe the same goes for airplane food.

now the food at this nearby hospital i used to work at... that was bad.
posted by lotsofno at 2:49 PM on December 4, 2002

Dunno, but maybe it's just another school that got tired of throwing away tons of "healthy" food every year that the kids wouldn't eat. This is what a lot of kids like. Maybe they learn it at home. (Yes, the photography could be better.) Anyway, finish this sentence: "There are starving children in Africa....."
posted by sageleaf at 3:00 PM on December 4, 2002

If you're not going to feed children's minds in school, why bother about their bodies?

People should be in jail for what is served in school cafeterias around this country. But very few parents (which is generally people in their 20s and 30s) have any culinary or gustatory sense (much less expertise) themselves, so as a result, they have no expectations of quality, nutrition, taste, etc.

They used to serve us "spinach" in grade school every time the custodians would cut the grass (I actually tracked the pattern over two school years). Now I look back on that with nostalgia--at least it was vegetative and organic!
posted by rushmc at 3:07 PM on December 4, 2002

Hey Carlos, goddamit, I'm a lunch chef at Harrisonburg Middle School!

(sobs, runs out of room)
posted by dhoyt at 3:10 PM on December 4, 2002

One awful trait I picked up from my years eating in school cafeterias is a tendency to eat the same thing every day. For a year. Because once you settle on something, why risk it with anything else? Maybe a different bag of chips or something, but otherwise - meat: out of the question. Salad bar: out of the question. Anything involving fish: no way. I think I had a grilled cheese sandwich for 6 months in a row. As a result, I'm very happy to eat in restaurants where bland, chemically altered foods are the norm - to me, they're all so different and wonderful.

And to second Witty: Buenos Aires blew me away. I was there for a month and could have counted on my hand the number of unfit, unattractive people I saw. Granted, their lungs were probably rotting from all the smog and cigarettes, but they had nice butts. Oh, and the food was good, too.
posted by risenc at 3:22 PM on December 4, 2002

suddenly all i can think of is parents...
posted by pxe2000 at 3:26 PM on December 4, 2002

In finland we have free food in schools. The typical budget is something like 0.5 euro to 1 euro and I always felt I got pretty good food, except for the fact that they put carrots in absolutely everything and the fish usually was pretty bad. Here are some images from a pretty typical dining. The page is in Finnish, which online translators can't translate.
posted by lazy-ville at 3:27 PM on December 4, 2002

Those photos look many calories better than the choices in my high school cafeteria...

Every day it was the same, choose one from each group:

1) rectangular pizza (puddles of grease) or chicken patty (fried and round)

2) tater tots (perfectly cylindrical) or french fries (sodium city)

Drinks? Pink or yellow liquid from cartons. Then if you were really healthy, you picked chocolate milk.

...I definitely did the bag lunch thing.
posted by superfem at 4:08 PM on December 4, 2002

I dunno -- can this be much worse than the stuff kids are getting at home for dinner? What with the advent of those godawful "dinner-in-a-box" things, this might be the culinary hilight of some kids days. If the kid's parents really cared for them, they'd be stuffing paper bags full of foodstuffs rather than subject them to this tripe.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 4:10 PM on December 4, 2002

One awful trait I picked up from my years eating in school cafeterias is a tendency to eat the same thing every day. For a year. Because once you settle on something, why risk it with anything else?

[slightly O/T rant about ex-husband's horrible eating habits]

My ex picked up this same trait in primary school, except that he apparently seemed to find it a matter of pride that he had eaten a minimalist-yet-gluttonous turkey sandwich (that is, an entire package of pressed turkey meat between two slices of dry white bread) every single day for something like twenty years. Twenty years. Of grey processed turkey on white bread. I only got him to eat some greens a few years into the marriage by covering a plate of lettuce in barbecue sauce. Amusingly enough, he once got me a gourmet cookbook for Xmas, then refused to eat anything I made from it.

[end slightly O/T rant about ex-husband's horrible eating habits]
posted by scody at 4:14 PM on December 4, 2002

My high school was just like superfem's, except add to that cheese fries(fries covered in fake nacho cheese sauce) and fried cheese (mozzarella sticks). The most amusing meal was probably the "calzone", which was a pillsbury pie shell wrapped around leftover sliced deli meats, covered in tomato paste. The greatest part of all? They decided to take away the soda machines my sophomore year because it was "too unhealthy."
posted by gatorae at 4:25 PM on December 4, 2002

There is a long and (maybe) funny thread on these very pictures at ArsTechnica.
posted by john m at 4:28 PM on December 4, 2002

One awful trait I picked up from my years eating in school cafeterias is a tendency to eat the same thing every day. For a year.

::: cries :::

If the kid's parents really cared for them, they'd be stuffing paper bags full of foodstuffs rather than subject them to this tripe.

Or actively demanding that the schools provide real food for their kids, and kicking the fast food outlets to the curb.
posted by rushmc at 4:49 PM on December 4, 2002

Funnily enough, Portuguese schoolchildren get properly cooked meals for almost nothing but the kids who want to seem cool go to a nearby café and, for a relative fortune, order the nondescript pseudo-American stuff pictured here.

It seems stupid that a country with such a variety of fresh and good canned products as the U.S. doesn't go for packed lunches: chicken legs, potato salad, boiled eggs, lots of lettuce and fresh fruit, tuna, salmon or corned beef sandwiches on properly baked bread; apple pie; all accompanied by lots of cold, fresh milk.

I went to an English school. from age 6 to 16, and the food was far worse (foul-tasting overcooked vegetables with grey, stringy meat) than anything mentioned here. So I had a packed lunch. All the American kids did too. They had cool lunch pails (Superman, Batman, etc) full of celery, apples, coleslaw, cold meats, juicy club sandwiches wrapped in wax paper.

Whatever happened?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:32 PM on December 4, 2002

lazy-ville: That does look pretty good, at least compared to US meals. Though, in that first picture, am I mistaken or is that a peeled lime with a beet-and-carrot face? Just making sure. That's one thing we definitely don't get over here.
posted by risenc at 5:34 PM on December 4, 2002

lazy-ville, if you start from this form it translates (thanks for the link). Caption on the first picture: Fair ornamentation is half grub Keittiöhenkilökunnan shedding skill yonder satisfaction thus tekijöille like asiakkaillekin.
Hmmmmm, ornamental shedding aisakkaillekin.

Also, the recipe calls for 37 kg full-blown marinoitua broilerisuikaletta. That, my friends, sounds serious.
posted by eddydamascene at 5:55 PM on December 4, 2002

I absolutely concur that food in our public schools is generally pretty icky. I know many teachers that won't eat school lunches. I would heartily invite everyone to contact the people in charge of your local public school district's budget and invite them down to the local school for lunch.

The folks behind the counter are not necessarily tasteless boors who couldn't cook their way out of a paper bag. They're usually operating within intensely tight budgets and have to plan those meals months in advance. I could call our student nutrition department right now and tell you what's on the menu for January. The actual cafeteria workers often make less money than the school janitors.

(Wow. Our public schools are pretty fucked. Every once in a while I start down the road of thinking about it and get really depressed.)
posted by mccreath at 6:55 PM on December 4, 2002

samuelad Thanks for the laugh :-).
posted by kyleebrock at 7:03 PM on December 4, 2002

I live a little ways south of Harrisonburg. It has a huge Mexican population. Can you imagine going from authentic, freshly made burritos to this? It makes me want to cry...
posted by hippugeek at 7:19 PM on December 4, 2002

for some reason, i really loved school lunches.

$2.00 (US) for nasty spaghetti with fake meat, the square pizza slices, and mystery meat tacos. those were the days.

and let me not forget about the ultimate sin : milk bags! aka chocolate breast implants. All of a sudden, the cartons were gone, and they were replaced with bags full of milk. It came with a straw which you tried to poke it with. That led to fun times at the lunch table.
posted by ewwgene at 8:08 PM on December 4, 2002

All of you with fond memories of school lunches and days gone by, you no longer have to live in the past.. Catering is available in Fairfax Co. Virginia! Isn't Northern Virginia GREAT??? I've just got to move back.
posted by gatorae at 9:51 PM on December 4, 2002

posted by modofo at 10:18 PM on December 4, 2002

Whose Grandma is giving this surprise?
posted by samuelad at 11:26 PM on December 4, 2002

all accompanied by lots of cold, fresh milk

*gags* I lived through the era of free school milk. We had to drink a bottle every day - until one day I threw up all over my school uniform. That showed them.
posted by Summer at 2:31 AM on December 5, 2002

My son is in the fourth grade here in Budapest, hungary, and his opinion of school luinches is little different than mine was at that age. I had basic Bronx salisbury steak and cheese sandwhiches, always served with lima beans. He gets gloppy creamed vegtables with a fried meatball or fried chicken part. Sometimes they get thin soup.

First thing he asks when I pick him up is "Papa, can we get some palacsinta at the bus stop." Thirty cents a crepe, not bad.
posted by zaelic at 2:35 AM on December 5, 2002

Whatever happened?

The honest answer -- the rise of two things, the two working parent household and the era of prepared, packaged foodstuffs. There's no time for the parents to make lunches and any concern over what the kids are eating instead is glossed over via the common belief (encouraged by the highly overstated descriptions and information from the schools themselves) that school lunches must conform to some standards (perhaps even federal) of nutrition, when in fact they do not. Many kids aren't getting decent meals at home, (see "prepared, packaged foodstuffs") and harried parents feel that they're somehow doing better for the kids by having them buy the crap cafeteria food.

That said, I'm currently sitting right in the middle of the Harrisonburg, VA school district, and I've been exploring the area for a potential relocation -- I haven't noticed that the kids around here seem any fatter than the average. This seems to be a very sports-heavy region, hopefully the kids are all getting enough exercise to stave off the effects of the Italian dunkers and beef and bean burritos. (And I gotta concur with hippugeek -- I can't imagine all of the hispanic kids around here are very happy with those school burritos. Even I shudder at the thought. And hey, hippugeek, wanna go snowshoeing?)
posted by Dreama at 4:43 AM on December 5, 2002

I had basic Bronx salisbury steak and cheese sandwhiches, always served with lima beans. He gets gloppy creamed vegtables with a fried meatball or fried chicken part. Sometimes they get thin soup.

Wow, what an interesting difference in what folks elsewhere eat for lunch;)

After reading this post I no longer feel I missed out in bagging my own lunch for school all those years. One brown bag containg; usually a sandwich most of the time peanut-butter & jelly, on brown bread, a bag of chips & a piece of fruit. Best days included a ding-dong. I did buy my milk at school though. My lunch was pretty boring to most of my classmates because they usually had white bread for their sandwiches.

Reminds me of a girlfriend from Sweden when she first saw sliced packaged bread in the USA. You Americans buy your bread and it's cut for you too, no wonder you're fat and lazy people...
posted by thomcatspike at 1:27 PM on December 5, 2002

Dreama: Alas, I am in the far northlands right now, instead of at home in VA. But if you want (yet another, i'm sure) insider's scoop on the area, I'd be happy to oblige--my email is posted.
posted by hippugeek at 7:30 PM on December 5, 2002

Now, we shouldn't pick on Harrisonburg too much. Schools all over the country are guilty of food like this, H'bg. was just the first we found to document for posterity the existence of their white-bread-and-marinara "dunkers."

I was just thinking back to first grade the other day - all the older kids and even the lunchtime supervisors trying to convince me to wolf down a plate o' nasty every day. Pointing at a microscopic speck of beef in beef stroganoff: "Look, that's a planet! Eat it!" (A "planet?!" Mmmm) I tried to be polite and tell them I preferred the home cooking -- they wouldn't leave me alone. But I digress.

All this prepared me well for the cafeteria at my current place of employment. The "burgers" and "chicken sandwiches" here would make fine brake shoes. (It is a local phenomenon, though. I have eaten at the same cafeteria's/A> operations in other locations and found them to be downright terrific.)

Stan Chin: Never had the pleasure of
Krystal myself, but it sure looks a helluvalot like White Castle burgers, also known as belly bombers, sliders, or, if you are my grandfather (r.i.p), "ratburgers." Also, while navigating the Krystal site, I kept hearing the first song from the Crystal Method's first album in my head, the one with the sample that goes "...until the crystal cracked... the crystal... the crystal..."
posted by britain at 7:34 AM on December 6, 2002

Food in Round Rock Independent School District (in Austin TX) was great. Although at some schools it lunch involved the likes of McDonald's and Taco Bell's, independent meals were available as well as a salad and snack bar, and hey, while I cannot vouch for the nutritional quality of the fast food, those are successful chains built on at least a little bit of good flavor ^^

The independent meals essentially involved 'real' versions of the standard school lunch fair, i.e. restaurant (if fast food) pizza, burgers, fries etc (and large servings too).

In upstate New York, however, the food is generally as depicted here. For a bit we did have Domino's pizza.
posted by firestorm at 12:20 PM on December 7, 2002

We have very different ideas of what constitutes "great" food, firestorm....
posted by rushmc at 9:20 PM on December 10, 2002

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