What They Feed Kids in School Cafeterias

17% of U.S. children are obese and one-third of all U.S. are obese costing the country over $147 billion in 2008 due to obesity-related medical care costs in 2010 yet processed foods and advertising from ‘junk food’ companies are still allowed in schools. In 2010, the USDA released changes to the school meal standards lowering the amount of starchy foods, yet sugar is still not regulated.

School Cafeteria Oatmeal in Washington DC
Oatmeal with Peaches. Photographed by Ed Bruske.

‘Instead of serving the peaches in a plastic cup on the side, the canned fruit is mixed right in with the oatmeal,’ writes Ed Bruske on the Better D.C. School Food blog, which promotes healthy eating in the District of Columbia, and regularly publishes photographs with cafeteria servings. “The carrots and broccoli arrive already cut into pieces and refrigerated in plastic bags,” he writes adding that many vegetables will get pushed into the rubbish bin.

School Cafeteria Chicken
Cajun Chicken. Photographed by Ed Bruske.

The District of Columbia passed the Healthy Schools Act last year which aims for all schools to reach the ‘gold-standard’ of the HealthierUS School Challenge run by the USDA. As part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move money to the sum of $2,000 is given depending on the standard reached in the HealthierUS School Challenge. More photos of the lunches are available from Ed Bruske on the Better D.C. School Food blog under the title of  ‘What’s for Lunch’.

Many schools are also turning to providing foods that are not part of the usual school meals program, to supplement money granted from the USDA school meals program. Around 64% of middle and high schools offer sugar drinks for sale as ‘competitive foods’, in that they are sold separately from the USDA school meals program whilst 49% allow the advertising of less healthy foods in their schools according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report.

Pushing out chicken nuggets, fries and chocolate will be hard but asking school councils and districts for small changes to school menus is a feasible step that will cut the $147 billion Americans spent on obesity care costs in the future and promote healthy living for the future generations.

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3 thoughts on “What They Feed Kids in School Cafeterias

  1. That’s is atrocious. The first tray literally looks like vomit or viscous gruel and the McDonald’s toy in this Happy Meal is the juice.

    I’m from Canada and I’m kind of fortunate that we weren’t bring served that stuff. However still unhealthy no less. Some stuff I can throw out off the top of my head:
    -Fries and onion (regular and spicy)
    -Fried processed chicken burgers and beef burgers
    -Pre-made cookies (made in a factory, baked at school)
    -Asian-ish stir-fry (not a style but just it looks like normal chow mein but it doesn’t taste like chow mein)
    -Steamed vegetables and roasted chicken thigh (at my old high school, it’s just served together)

    Like every school, you will have pre-made and bagged food so it can be easily prepped in under an hour to serve. In essence, they try and serve the best they can on budget but it’s still pretty bad no less. Especially public schools being sponsored by soda conglomerates. You have to draw the line somewhere. When I graduated, they just placed in a policy to only have the vending machine stocked with 40% soda and 60% water and juice. Not a bad step, but I think the worst part would be the cafe’s meals.

    Also mix and matching doesn’t hurt. Like just have a combination of things everyday than just a meal plan. I know my school’s cafeteria attandent/lady/person-who-cooks-the-food really pushed for better meals and it was interesting to hear her ideas for certain recipes. Some were pretty good and wished the board would approve.

    It’s good they’re trying to reduce childhood obesity by making everything a bit healthier. If anything; learn to cook and get hired by the school board to cook for a school. Or organize the cooking club/home ec kids to make up some good recipes or something, anything’s better than slop served with a side of soda.

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