In the pursuit of deliciousness, food offers people a colorful feast for the senses. The versatile combination of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals helps human beings thrive and create. Cooking, in particular, is like alchemy — it’s all about changing substances, mixing aromatic herbs, using local produce, and searching for secret recipes.
Food presentation is also essential to feed one's taste buds and brain with aesthetic energy. Nutritious meals are particularly important to raise healthy kids. Food is the fuel that keeps their bodies active, the energy that tickles their health!
Experts claim that children need minimally processed food to boost their learning skills and cognitive performance. That said, school lunches collide with sanity. From rotten food through to unhealthy choices to small portions — school lunches are a major concern across the US. Although more and more schools embrace healthier options; students, parents, and teachers agree that school lunches are unappetizing, unfulfilling, and unhealthy. For many kids, school lunches can be a nightmare, either wrapped in plastic or splashed on an unclean tray. In fact, schools waste up to $5 million a day in uneaten (gross) food.
So, here are some school lunches US moms used to think were nutritious... up until recently.
20 A Ketchup Burger With A Dash Of Bacon
Tender, juicy, and delicious… everything this burger is not.
While burgers can be a good source of protein, experts reveal that refined grain buns and greasy meat are far from being healthy. Yet, research shows that 82% of parents in the US still think that burgers are a good school lunch option for their kids. According to time.com, even Millennial moms—who are often obsessed with quinoa, coconut milk, and soy meat—love burgers. And let’s not forget about the almighty ketchup. This popular tomato sauce, touted as the most delicious condiment across the globe, is commonly packed with sugar and fructose syrup, which can lead to metabolic problems.
19 1% Milk, 1% Salad
Can a pinch of salad make this pizza healthier?
School lunches must be healthy in order to provide the energy and vitamins kids need to thrive. Yet, eating a healthy meal along with fast food is not nutritious enough. While the combination of salad with pizza might trick parents into thinking their kids consume healthy food, the truth is that grease and salt can increase a child's cholesterol levels.
In addition, according to Time.com, recent research shows that there’s no evidence that low-calorie milk is better than whole dairy products. The truth is that those healthy versions of Coke (along with an oily burger) won’t help either.
18 Full Or Fed Up With Yucky School Lunches?
Have you ever wondered why school lunches have a bad reputation across the US? Just look at the picture above!
According to foodrevolution.org, US schools don’t meet even the quality of fast-food restaurants. The history of school lunches is interesting, though. In 1912, parents and community programs started paving the way for modern school programs. Cold lunches slowly took over federally supported hot lunches. Additionally, according to mentalfloss.com, a usual 1974 school menu included fizzy drinks, burgers, and fries.
As healthy food can improve a child’s concentration and academic performance, we can only wonder what this dry slice of bread and lean meat are actually good for.
17 School Canteen's Nightmare Menu
It’s a well-known fact that many children dislike going to school. Well, we can’t blame them. Just look at their lunches! "Who would want to eat this? Not me!"
Food director Ann Cooper told nytimes.com, "We have to educate the kids about healthy eating… If a kid wasn’t reading at grade level we would work harder to get them to read at grade level, but with food, we’ve somehow abdicated that part of their education."
Unfortunately, many schools have given contracts to food management companies, and for a vast majority of food conglomerates, children’s health is not their top priority.
16 A School Meal Or An Unappetizing Appetizer?
It’s not a secret that school lunches are too short. According to nytimes.com, kids in the US have less than 20 minutes to finish their meals, while French kids have up to two hours to eat and chat. The truth is that lack of time affects a child’s overall health and may lead to food waste.
At least this school cafeteria found a "clever" solution to this problem: if there’s not enough time, simply reduce portion sizes. How many fries can you see? Eight, maybe nine?
At least, there’s enough ketchup packed with sugar. Perhaps for the sour-looking tangerine on the tray!
15 Soggy Nuggets For A Sad Tummy
In our busy society, school lunches make up to 50% of a child’s food intake. And when this percentage constitutes of soggy nuggets, your child’s belly will confirm that school lunches can be unhealthy.
While school boxes with Dunk-a-roos, Oreo, and Teddy Grahams can be yummy, they are certainly not the healthiest option for students. Many snack packs are loaded with processed carbohydrates and blubber.
The same goes for packaged fruit juice. According to healthymummy.com, packed juices are simply a weird mixture of added sugars and colors. Thus, many parents today prefer to substitute fruit juices with a whole piece of fruit and water instead.
14 Lunchables: A Great Value For A Few Crumbs
Students need lots of energy to thrive and obtain new skills and knowledge. Nevertheless, in the '80s, Capri Sun, Fruit Roll-ups, and Lunchables slowly took over lunchtime and processed foods like rectangular pizza slices.
From small hotdogs to mini rainbow chips, Lunchables are known as the modern lab food loaded with synthetic vitamins, fructose corn syrup, and GMO substances. According to thehealthyhomeeconomist.com, the Lunchables creator Bob Drane said, "I wish that the nutritional profile of the thing could have been better, but I don’t view the entire project as anything but a positive contribution to people’s lives."
Looking at these three crackers, are Lunchables worth the price?
13 Chocolate Milk, Dry Burgers, And Vanilla Frozen Desserts... Is Fast Food Healthier Than School Lunches?
McDonald's, we’re loving it, right? Well, looking at the picture above, one may wonder if fast food is actually healthier than school lunches. At least fast food chains offer salad…
Interestingly, according to mentalfloss.com, in the '90s, schools let fast food operators run their cafeterias. While eating McDonald’s every day might be fun, deficiencies in minerals and vitamins can lead to behavioral problems and poor eating habits.
In addition, milk is said not to always be good for kids. When it comes to flavored milk, for instance, parents should understand that colored milk filled with tablespoons of sugar can lead to a decrease in a child’s overall health.
12 How Food Travels Through The Body
Our digestive system is unique. As we know, food enters the digestive system through the mouth, travels through the body, and waste products become stool. Just look at the picture above!
Joking aside, it’s a fact that school lunches can be unappetizing. Food expert Camiscoli says, "What they are provided with is unappetizing and unsatisfying. There is much more effort… put into thinking about fine-tuning the logistics of state exams rather than the logistics of the nutritional needs of students on free lunch."
Interestingly, according to mentalfloss.com, it was in the '60s when foods once considered ethnic (such as chili con carne) became popular school lunch options.
11 50 Shades Of Beige
Talking about appetizing foods, food presentation matters. Ask Chef Ramsay! Looking at the combination of dry snacks, packed juice, and chunky chicken nuggets, one may wonder if this tray is not a sequel of Fifty Shades of Gray, with an unappetizing splash of Beige.
Interestingly, when it comes to chicken nuggets, experts claim that commercially available chicken nuggets are not chicken but a mixture of ground bone and junk.
Jacquez Conwell told huffpost.com, "It’s not fair for us kids, to go through the day where we’re not satisfied. And if we’re not satisfied, we’re not learning anything and we’re not focused." In fact, evidence shows that healthy foods are vital to improve academic performance and decrease absences.
10 Fresh... From The Freezer
Although fast food is not the greatest school lunch option, some healthy meals can be actually unhealthy. Take this fresh salad (from the freezer), for example!
Forcing students to eat only salad can leave them hungry. With some right-sized regulations, some kids, especially athletes, do not get enough calories. When it comes to salads, only salad dressings and additives like noodles can give kids enough energy to flourish at school.
Note that according to foodrevolution.com, nutritious meals can improve a child’s learning skills, memory, and motivation. In addition, research shows that students who eat wholesome meals have higher standardized test scores.
9 Can Food Make You Happy?
We are what we eat. Too much sugar can make us agitated, bananas can boost our serotonin levels, and a bland eating plan can be upsetting. This plain school lunch is just pathetic.
According to firstwefeast.com, our brains seek natural reward-drivers, such as greasy burgers, candy bars, and fizzy drinks, to release happiness and life-sustaining sustenance. At the same time, fake products and refined grains can make people unhappy in the long-term as the effects of eating do not appear as immediately.
Here’s a fun fact about this sad burger, though. In 1981, the federal lunch program changed their nutrition guidelines and classified ketchup as a vegetable.
8 How To Get An 'A'? Simply Guess What I Had For Lunch!
School lunches can be a mystery. We are not talking about suspicious ingredients, such as pesticides, GMOs, or mystery meat. School lunches simply have a bad reputation as some meals are not only unappetizing but potentially dangerous. School lunches often consist of slop on a cheap plate or frozen bits in a box.
With the increasing numbers of low-income families, some students are forced to eat gross meals (sometimes with mold and insects) or simply throw their meals away.
According to mamavation.com, a hungry child is not a happy child. Ghrelin, a hormone produced on an empty stomach, may impact learning and spatial awareness.
7 Grab And Go? Just Go! And Better Run Fast
Home-cooked meals are delicious! In fact, it takes less energy to digest warm food than cold food. It’s no surprise that in the early '20s, schools focused on providing a warm lunch, boiled meats, and stews. Students were encouraged to cook, paving the way of modern cafeterias.
Wouldn’t it be amazing to have a warm frankfurter dipped in creamy potatoes for lunch? Perhaps, but not at school. Just look at this sausage soaked in yellow liquid.
What’s "better" than a cup of chocolate milk to enjoy a reheated sausage stuck in a box with condensed water? In fact, according to refrigeratedfrozenfood.com, condensation is a silent enemy of food safety.
6 Freshly Cooked Meals, But Not Today
Balanced and fresh lunches can lead to better overall health and academic performance. According to mentalfloss.com, in the '40s, school programs relied on the agricultural surplus to prepare meals like chipped beef, cornmeal pudding, rice, and bacon. Some schools served fresh vegetable soups, apples, meat, and veggies.
More than 70 years later, schools across the US are facing budget cuts, and meals include dry and decaying wedges and burned chicken nuggets.
In comparison, school lunches in Europe—where education is free—include fish on a bed of arugula, pea soup, steak, tofu, sautéed shrimp, and stuffed peppers.
5 Lunch Programs Collide With Sanity
When it comes to school reforms and budget cuts, the US school system often disappoints students. In an attempt to make school lunches healthier, schools simply reduce portion sizes. While frozen meals and rotten food are unappetizing and dangerous, small portions are also detrimental.
In fact, a decrease in energy and vitamins can lead to low cognitive abilities and mental concentration. Interestingly, according to mentalfloss.com, the US Department of Agriculture stated that school lunches needed only to provide "minimum nutritional value."
Old habits fade hard. With a bit of cauliflower and a few slices of ham, there’s no doubt that kids get only minimum nutritional value.
4 Peanut Butter Cake? That's Really Nuts
Kids love peanut butter. The thick texture of peanut butter makes it perfect for dipping — just bring enough celery and carrot sticks. There’s no wrong way to eat peanut butter; this magical nutty spread goes well with lots of types of foods, adding vitamins and calories. Interestingly, a guide from the '30s recommended peanut butter with cottage cheese.
Nevertheless, having a peanut butter cake at school is nuts. Peanut butter is high in fat, which may have a negative impact on kids.
In fact, eating lots of added sugar can be harmful. According to foodrevolution.org, an eating guide with little sugar can improve problem behaviors and hyperactivity.
3 Lots Of Plastic, No Real Food
What’s for lunch? Plastic! Looking at this picture of artificial ingredients and packed jelly wrapped in polyesters makes us really sad.
Although plastic is an amazing invention, which is waterproof, tough, and light, plastic is also an environmental danger worldwide. Thus, more and more parents and schools are trying to reduce the use of plastic utensils and plastic packaging.
School lunch administrator Bonnie Scally told edition.cnn.com, "We use self-serve dispensers for condiments and salad dressings instead of individual packets. We do not serve foods that come packed in (sheet) plastic. The district also installed water bottle refilling stations."
2 Mystery Meat And Sticky Jelly
A three-course dish can be delicious: a combination of attractive appetizer, nutritious entrée, and sweet nibbles for dessert. Nevertheless, this is not always the case. Just look at the picture above: mystery meat, sticky jelly, and dry salad.
The truth is that unappetizing school lunches can lead to bad eating habits. In fact, to help children get their five a day, fruit and veggies must be appealing and interactive.
Dietitian Sharon Palmer told lizshealthytable.com, "Kids love to eat veggies when they can dip them in a flavorful dip or sauce, such as hummus, ranch dip, fruit salsa, guacamole, or nut butter."
1 Minimalist Design, Maximal Distaste
Students need food diversity to thrive at school. But can dry berries, plain pizza, and milk loaded with sugar provide the nutrients our little ones need?
School lunches are slowly changing, though. Things such as Lunchables, burgers, and sweets are no longer considered healthy. Today’s parents are slowly embracing healthy options, homemade meals, and local produce.
While free lunch is essential, food quality should not be underestimated either. According to mentalfloss.com, school lunch is a big thing — at more than $10 billion a year. So why our kids keep getting dry bread, small portions and slop on a plate is still a mystery.