School lunches . . . what do you think?

February 3, 2016


American lunch.

One of the many benefits of homeschooling our 10th grader that I didn’t think about at first, is that he no longer has to eat school lunches.

Best Lunchlady ever!

Before my lunch lady friend gets her hair net in a bunch, let me explain. It has nothing to do with the service. When I taught school, I learned just how hard that lunch crew works. Arriving early, heaving giant pots and pans around, and doing it all with a smile while many of their little customers will still say, “I don’t like that!” (their Mama’s didn’t raise them right).


The lunchroom ladies get a gold star. I’m talking about two other problems that can be traced further up the line of command. First, the food’s nutrition content meets the bare necessities at best, and second, the quantity served isn’t adequate for most children.
Thomas the Tank Engine LunchboxAlthough both boys took their lunches to school when they were young, as they grew older, it wasn’t “cool” anymore. Even if they ditched Thomas The Tank Engine lunchbox in favor of a generic paper bag, no-way, no-how were they going to carry their lunch to school . . . which of course, would have solved a big part of the problem.

bag lunches, Leslie Anne Tarabella

When the youngest developed migraine headaches, I started investigating the school lunch contents. Most days, there was something breaded, frozen and reheated on their plates. Mozzarella sticks were considered a main dish, and “fruit” was often swimming in preservatives and a sugary syrup. You get the picture.

Speaking of pictures, look at this:

school lunches from around the world

Typical school lunches from around the world.

We live in a wonderful farming community, but because of federal regulations, we don’t serve anything locally grown (that I’ve ever heard of or seen). Most of it’s frozen and shipped in on big trucks.


First Lady Michelle Obama had good intentions with her healthy eating initiative, but when children refused to eat the food or worse yet, ate it. but remained hungry, there was an uproar.


Michelle Obama's healthy eating initiative.

Now that my son is home, I can’t believe how much he eats all day. He’s tall and lanky, and has grown at least four inches in one year, but there’s no fear (at-all-ever-never-in-a-million-years) of him being overweight. The kid is just growing!


I'm hungry!

When I’m feeding him for the third or fourth time before 3pm, I often think about his friends in pubic school who have to go for 7-8 hours with only a tiny lunch. Some of them don’t even start the day with breakfast! This doesn’t make any sense at all. Our school system treats these teens like slow metabolizing adults instead of the fast-growing, hungry, sleepy, moody bundles of joy they are.


school lunchI’m now constantly looking for good lunch ideas and I found a great soup recipe lil’ (not so lil’) kid loves. I’ll share it with you next week and you’ll love it too!


What do you think about school lunches?


Leave a Reply

  1. They are horrendous in our district. I too have great respect for the staff at a school. In fact, my granny was a lunchroom lady back in the day.
    Lunches have changed dramatically since then. My kids who are now 26 and 23 never ate school lunch! The contents are even worse now. Our district went to a centralized location and then to an outside source, so now cooking isn’t even done on the school premises now. It is all frozen food and heated when it arrives. It is mostly high in the bad kind of carbs, highly processed, and extremely sugary. There is nothing nutritious about it. I just wonder what would happen to test scores if they were fed a nutritious hot lunch.
    You must have hit a nerve! 🙂

    1. Interesting point about the academic portion of the day being linked to the lunches. I know I can barely think straight if I’m hungry. Many days last year, my son would say he didn’t eat the lunch at all, either because he didn’t like it or because they would give them something like a breaded chicken patty with no knife to cut it with — only a plastic fork. (I was shocked he actually had some manners). He said most kids either picked it up with their hands or would spear it with the fork and eat it like a “meat-cicle.”

      And we wonder why they have bad manners . . .

      Thanks Sandy. Great input!

  2. Another issue our elementary schools have is 20 minutes for lunch. That means an entire class has 20 minutes from the time they enter the cafeteria to stand in line, get their paltry lunch, sit down and eat. (I’m in the same school district as you). This also doesn’t give the teacher time to eat since she spends half her lunch opening milk cartons, policing her class and hurrying them out the door. There is no down time for the teacher or the students.

    1. As a slow eater myself, I totally agree with you. It’s stressful to have to rush so much. And although I understand they want to keep the roar to a minimum, it also drives me crazy when some schools make lunch “silent.” No free play, no outdoor snack time, no talking at lunch. It all leads up to heartburn!

      Thanks for the great comment Mary.

  3. This is a complicated issue, especially when it gets to our teens. Of course they wouldn’t be seen with a little paper bag, or worse yet, a lunch box sent to school with them from dear ole mom. It is so easy for working moms to send our little ones off with “lunch money” when time is of the essence every morning! I ate school lunches growing up but my son was a picky eater at a young age so I packed his very healthy lunch. Teen years came and so out went the lunch from mom. Now my little grandson takes his lunch. Like his dad, he is a picky eater. We’ll see how long this lasts. Great post Leslie Ann. An issue we need to take to heart in this country.

    1. Emily, you’re so right it’s complicated!

      One thought I’ve had is that schools should do away with providing lunches all together — and before anyone screams about some not being able to afford to make their own lunch, I taught in a very poor inner city school and the one thing these families had was plenty of food because of government programs. Any time we had a party, they were so nice to bring wonderful food. Some of the things they brought, I, as a teacher, had to budget for!

      Many private schools do this and it would save the school systems millions of dollars and put the responsibility of nutritious food back with the parents. (parents being responsible for their own children? What a crazy thought that is!).

      Thanks Emily.

  4. The only thing fit to eat in our school lunches, grade 1 – 12, was the peanut butter cookies. By high school, I had my father trained. We lived 3 blocks from AHS, and he stopped by on his way back to work at the PO downtown with a hot lunch my mother packed from what she cooked for their lunch! I usually shared with my table because it was so much food.

  5. My teacher friend in Marietta says they’re awful. They’re not allowed to have mayo — what? No Duke’s??? — and only 1 pack of mustard for a sandwich. Most of the food goes straight into the trash can.

    Even worse is a silly rule that if a kid doesn’t want an unopened carton of milk, etc., he/she isn’t allowed to give it to the teacher to give to someone else.

    How’s that for throwing our good money AND food into the trash? Such wanton waste can’t bode well for America. I’m a big Home School advocate.

    1. One thing about teaching in “poorer” school areas . . . they don’t care about sharing food. First of all, there wasn’t much to share because those kids ate just about every bite. If there was a rare something or the other left on the plate, we sure enough gave it to another kid who wanted it. Need breeds practicality.

      In the Fairhope schools, you should see the lines around Sonic after school, not just for a good treat, but for full meals because the students being picked up are starving!

  6. The lunch options in my children’s school are horrible. They may eat the dessert, if it is a cookie, and the fruit if it is an option they like. The rest will find itself in the big black garbage can sitting at the wash room area. Not only were my children starving when they got home, they were just as hungry at school because they didn’t have anything fit to eat, other than the snack I packed them. It didn’t take my children long to realize MaMa’s packed lunch tastes so much better than the cafeteria options.

    Their little bodies are not the only thing growing at a fast pace. Each day their brains are having to soak up tons of information. When a child is hungry, they cannot learn. Their little brains are in idle mode due to hunger and most of the time that results in bad grades and bad attitudes. Children will be moody on a good day, but being hungry just amplifies that.

    1. I always told my students as well as my own children they had to take at least two bites of everything on their plate. Most of them would nibble new things and continue to eat, but one year, I had a little girl actually try her best to eat green beans, but she said they were “mushy” (over cooked) and gagged up green beans everywhere! Bless her heart, she was trying so hard! I only “suggested” they try new things after that!

      And you are totally right about their brains needing energy. The other thing they need during the day is water, but I loath public water fountains! I think Baldwin Co. Schools do allow water bottles, so that’s good.

  7. Leslie Anne, my son, who is now 30, went to a private school with decent lunches, but he was so picky! For 12 years he got the same lunch PB&J and to this day that is still his lunch of choice!

    1. I tried eating PBandJ sandwiches when I first taught school because they told us if we didn’t eat the school lunch, we needed to bring something plain the children wouldn’t want. First of all, I gained 7 pounds in a month from the delicious peanut butter, but guess what? The children still wanted my lunch anyway!!

      Gotta love a good PB and J!

  8. I have a confession to make. When I walk into a school around lunchtime and get a whiff of that cafeteria food, I salivate. Sounds a bit like Pavlov’s dogs. I think it is because of teaching Kindergarten all those years and working up such an appetite that I devoured those school lunches. That was just a couple of decades ago but back then the lunches were not prepackaged or prepared but more like real home cooking. And you are are so right about the lunch ladies being the unsung heroes of the schools. They do the best they can working under the rigorous federal guidelines and budget. (Just a thought here, why are we allowing the federal government to dictate what our children are served in state-supported public schools? If we used locally grown produce, it would reduce the cost to the point where those federal dollars wouldn’t be so enticing dangling under the noses of school officials.)

    1. Very wise, and I agree completely! The other side of that plan is that it also keeps the local growers working and places the dollars right back in the community which is always looking for ways to support the educational system!

  9. I absolutely LOVE this post Leslie! You hit on so many key topics. I have a 14 year old boy and he requires so much food that I find myself at the grocery store 2-3 times a week due to limited storage. I grew up in a farming community but it has now drastically changed. After thoroughly researching the long term effects of GMO’s, pesticides, etc we made the switch to organics and locally grown as much as possible. It’s more expensive (But cheaper than cancer treatments!) and does not have a long shelf life. But it sure tastes better and we feel better. My son still carries his lunch and I pack enough that he can have a quick snack here and there between classes. Because the fact remains that kids can’t concentrate well when they’re hungry. I also do not send him to school on just a bowl of cereal. Typically I make eggs with whole wheat toast or yogurt with granola and fruit, etc.

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