Social Question

KendraW's avatar

Can Cafeteria food be healthy for your child?

Asked by KendraW (72points) November 19th, 2009

It was recently brought to my attention that school cafeterias are bringing in more “fast food” because that is what the children want. So my question is what can we do as parents or teachers at a school to change this? OR Are you satisfied with “hot lunches” because financially it is the best choice? Is Cafeteria food the best choice for our children?

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43 Answers

ubersiren's avatar

In my school (I packed lunches until high school) we were given a somewhat healthy choice, and then a pizza or hot dog option. I think I had pizza every day in the 10th grade. But even the healthier choices were not quality food, which I think contributed to the many pizza choices that were made. It all looked so… colorless. Bleck.

If fast food is that available when my children are school aged, I will not permit them to eat there. I will be packing lunches.

DominicX's avatar

What about just bringing a lunch to school? That’s what I did from elementary school to high school…(yes my mom packed it for me all the way up until senior year of high school…SO WHAT?!).

We had this thing in middle school where every two weeks or so we could get Mexican or Chinese food or something at school (that came from actual chains), but that wasn’t very often and for the other times, most kids just brought their own lunch because there wasn’t any other food available. At high school, you could always buy food there if you wanted to, but even then, most people brought their own lunches. (Hate to say it, but it was usually the poorer kids who bought food there).

Also, Governor Schwarzenegger passed some law that didn’t allow schools to sell such unhealthy food (hence why the candy vending machines went away and they no longer sold pizza at high school). But that’s just California. I think every state could learn from it, though.

Facade's avatar

Probably not. I don’t remember being offered vegetables in HS other than a disgusting looking salad. Bag lunches are better imo

cookieman's avatar

Having been on lunch duty at my daughter’s school as recently as last Monday, I’m gonna say “no” – not too healthy.

Frozen chicken nuggets, French fries and bagel pizzas -yuck.

Luckily my daughter brings leftovers from home most of the time. She only wants to buy hot lunch about twice a month. I’d love to tell her no – but then she’d want it more. So I choose my battles.

I hope there’s other schools out there with quality food in their cafeteria.

virtualist's avatar

One good thing is occuring with increasing frequency in my school district: kids who have not had breakfast at home may now get a modest breakfast first thing upon arrival at school. Also occuring with increasing frequency is a modestly improved choice of healthier lunches.

The_Compassionate_Heretic's avatar

Cafeteria food is some of the worst food ever. The standards are ridiculously low.
You probably wouldn’t want to eat it. Fast food might actually be a step up.

It’s cheaper and more healthy to pack your own child’s lunch. At least there, you have more quality control over what goes into your child’s system.

faye's avatar

Jamie Oliver is trying to change cafeteria food to healthy choices in UK and fighting an uphill battle.

poofandmook's avatar

There are some companies that provide cafeteria services that are based around healthy food, but not enough of them.

When I was in school, we had a deli bar. I ate a ham and roast beef sandwich with mayo and tomato every day I had money to do so. If I didn’t, I bought a cup of mashed potatoes for 50 cents. And I always made sure I had money on the rib sandwich day. Those nasty little things were so goddamn good…

Fred931's avatar

Trust me. Your kids will LOVE you if you pack them a lunch. As long as its not tofu & beans, it will be better nutritionally and sensibly than the crap they serve at the cafeterias. Better yet, let your kids pack their own lunch. See what they want, buy it, and let them choose between oobleck and food each day.

poofandmook's avatar

I was poor growing up. I ate school lunch because I got it free. I remember there being healthy options for the breakfast program… they had healthy dry cereals. I ate Rice Krispies every morning.

KendraW's avatar

I know that packing a lunch is always an option but pretend it wasn’t….. would you sign your child up for “hot lunch” why or why not?

cookieman's avatar

@KendraW: Well if packing my child’s lunch wasn’t an option, and I say “no” to the hot lunch – does she starve?

is there a third option I’m missing?

poofandmook's avatar

@KendraW: For my dad, packing my lunch was rarely an option.

KendraW's avatar

@poofandmook do you remember the food? was it nutritious or was it junk? Can you remember any concerns your parent or guardian had about it?

KendraW's avatar

@cprevite of course not I’m just trying to get honest feedback about what the schools are feeding our children.

poofandmook's avatar

@KendraW: I only remember the breakfast for the most part. It’s hard for a single parent in college and working a menial job to have concerns about nutrition when the option is eating something not great or… not eating.

KendraW's avatar

@poofandmook I totally understand, thank you so much for your feedback!

Fred931's avatar

@cprevite A third option would be giving the student a crapload of money to go to the snack bar each day for lunch depending on what is served. My school has uber-delicious Mellow Mushroom pizza every day for $2 a slice. thats where the crapload part comes in. If my parents gave me 4$ a day, i would be much more happy every day.

troubleinharlem's avatar

The kids still have to choose to eat it if it’s there.

RedPowerLady's avatar

There is a good new movement going on in many schools where they are bringing gardened food into the schools and having that instead of the typical cafeteria foods. So bringing in more “fast food” isn’t happening everywhere. They make deals with local farms. Also many schools are starting their own gardens. It is a pretty awesome movement but I forget what it is called. Anyone?

Having said that when I was in school the food was absolutely not healthy. Mostly fried foods. Also not all students got fed which really was a huge problem IMO.

Likeradar's avatar

@KendraW School lunches are mostly unhealthy crap. Students’ preferences aren’t the only reason by far- it’s economics. At least in my city, school lunches are provided by outside companies that pay the school, pay for their own electricity, supplies, and space, and still try to make a profit. Therefore, they serve children cheap crap.
If packing a lunch wasn’t an option in a strange hypothetical world, I would allow my child to eat them as opposed to starve. But since I’ve never heard of a school that didn’t allow lunches from home, there’s no way in hell I’d set my child up for poor nutrition.

Fred931's avatar

@RedPowerLady Its called “Organics” as in “Organic school.” Get it, heh, organic, and yeah, organic school, funny right? Heh, yeah funny , yeah you get it? Huh? Hmm…

shrubbery's avatar

A school cafeteria should not make a profit. I don’t understand how they buy this cheap disgusting greasy crap and then charge 3–4 dollars for each thing. It’s awful. I know getting tasty healthy things is more expensive, but if I’m going to pay so much for crap food anyway I’d be happy to pay the same or a bit more for quality, healthy food, as long as the cafeteria isn’t getting a profit out of it.
I know that it definitely isn’t an issue of cost for my school, they have shitloads of money rolling in (just look at my school fees), and, as I said, their cafeteria (though we call it “tuck shop”) is making a profit.
They should have far more healthier options, and I think they’ve had a couple, but they’re just stuck on buying the same old things all the time- pizzas, sausage rolls etc. because the kids just buy whatever is there. There are a lot of rich kids at my school whose parents just don’t have time to make their lunches and the kids themselves are lazy so they just get given money every day with no restrictions on what they buy.
I think the parents who do care need to kick up a fuss or something for anything to happen. The school only ever listens to parents, and then only if there’s a group.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Fred931 No it’s not. I’m talking about the movement where schools are purposefully building coalitions and adding fresh food to their cafeteria. In many circumstances they have built salad bars. Also creating their own gardens for this movement.

Fred931's avatar

That is precisely where worlds collide, @shrubbery. Our school is pretty much dead for money, and we have made cutbacks such as leaving only two janitors to the school. Teachers now have to clean up their own rooms, and most can barely afford cleaning supplies. It’s a sad situation over here.

Fred931's avatar

@RedPowerLady Click this and go to the part where I start talking and read all of my discussion, por favor.

zephyr826's avatar

Speaking as a hot lunch kid, and now a school lunch teacher, I must defend the system. I am incredibly fortunate now to work in a school where the food is made on site, and there are different options every day, including fresh vegetables, at least three kinds of salads, and a cooked vegetable as well every day. I realize that we are the exception not the rule, but it is still possible to get a (relatively) nutritious meal in a school cafeteria.

(to Kendra, Judy, and Anita, I salute you)

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Fred931 Is that your long way of telling me you were just joking?

arpinum's avatar

All children at my school are given two servings of vegetables every day, fruit every other day, rice, meat, a soup with tofu and more vegetables, an occasionally pasta or seafood. Bean sprout salad is common. They are only given water to drink at lunch. At 10am all students are given milk. In the afternoon all students are given one serving of fruit. Meals are prepared for everyone in the school, there are no choices of what you want to eat, only the choice to no be served the meal portion. Lines move quickly and it is very healthy and economical.

Of course this is in Korea. No reason it can’t be done elsewhere though. It costs $1 equivalent to prepare each meal. They save on costs by using dark chicken meat meat and beef that is not a prime cut.

arpinum's avatar

@Fred931 The students clean our school. The older children have rotating shifts to clean the buildings after school. The sweep, mop, dust, pick up trash, empty trash bins, etc. They are in the 6th grade. Just today they came into my office to wipe down my desk and sweep under it. Again though, this is Korea.

Likeradar's avatar

@arpinum Wow… those kids must have a real sense of pride in their school and work to keep it clean even when it’s not their shift. Kinda an interesting idea…

arpinum's avatar

@Likeradar They might get beaten by their teacher if they didn’t clean. And certainly beaten by the other people on their cleaning team. Motivation here often comes through fear.

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Fred931 Then please excuse me for being dense ;P

DominicX's avatar


There’s always a catch…

Buttonstc's avatar


The term you may be thinking about is the project (and I believe a book as well) by Alice Waters called The Edible Schoolyard.

It’s catching on in more and more schools as time goes on.

I also think it interesting that Michelle Obama’s decision to plant a vegetable garden on the White House grounds sent an important message in this regard.

(Altho I seem to recall seeing a news article that it was later discovered that the soil contained large amounts os lead, thus rendering them inedible.)

But, it’s the thought that counts, isn’t it?

RedPowerLady's avatar

@Buttonstc Thank you :)

In regards to white house soil, wouldn’t they have enough money to change that? Or is it a non-changeable issue?

Buttonstc's avatar

I would assume that they could change it or build with raised beds filled with quality soil.

I can’t even remember where I saw the info about the lead but I was under the impression that it wasn’t discovered until after it had already been
planted. I guess some genius in the Dept. of Ag. decided it might be a good idea to test the veggies so the Pres. wouldn’t get poisoned or something.

Or maybe it was a Secret Service guy being super alert or bucking for a promotion.


RedPowerLady's avatar

@Buttonstc Seems to me like the genius should have figured that out before they planted, lol.

Strauss's avatar

My daughter attends a charter school, which does not yet have facilities for a full-service cafeteria. They have outsourced hot lunches, and the contractor provides hot, healthy, lunches for about $3.50 per lunch. There are also subsidies available for students whose families can not afford this.

jerv's avatar

They can be, but they never will because it costs a little more and takes more time to cook right than to unpack a box, throw it in the fryer for 20 minutes, and serve it up.

Jamie Oliver has tried to prove otherwise, but I think that the 2nd episode of Food Revolution shows what sort of battle that is. Take the most disgusting glop full of chicken bones and unknown stuff, roll it out, hit it with a cookie cutter, fry it up, and kids will prefer it over real food! Well, American kids anyways; kids in other countries are turned off by seeing what their food is really made of.

Personally, I got out of eating lunch period due to the food at school. I’ll have a decent breakfast and a nice dinner from scratch, but even 20 years later I can’t eat lunch after seeing what the cafeterias served up.

GeorgeGee's avatar

Check out this story that was on NPR today.
about attempts to make cafeteria food that tastes good AND is nutritious.

jerv's avatar

@GeorgeGee It’s sad that you have to be sneaky about it. Of course, maybe it wouldn’t be such an issue if we did two things:

1) Learn to cook—If you ever had cooking like my mother-in-law’s then it’s no wonder that many kids prefer pre-packaged stuff. I happened to be raised by someone who actually has some skill in the kitchen, so I never equated home-cooking with dry heaves the way some people (especially kids) do.

2) Stop letting our kids dietary choices be determined by mass media—I eat what tastes good even it it lacks glitzy PR, and won’t let flashy ads convince me that something tastes good when it doesn’t. Some people of all ages are a bit more easily swayed, so there are quite a lot of people bullshitting themselves into liking certain things, or preferring them prepared in a crappy way. Sure, DIY nachos are a bit more of a hassle than ordering them as Toxic Smell… err… Taco Bell, but a freshly melted pile of four-cheese blend on fresh chips tastes a lot better than the canned petrochemicals poured over stale roofing material that pass for nachos at Taco Hell, yet there are many people who actually prefer the crap because home-cooking never had a talking chihuahua telling you that you want it.

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