School Lunches: What They're Serving in the Cafeteria

Sure, you try to pack your child's lunch every day before she heads off to school every morning, but there are always bound to be days when your hectic schedule seems to push aside time for lunch packing. On those days, you hand her a few bucks and tell her to buy something healthy, but do you really know what she'll be eating?

healthier school lunches
(Photo: Education Votes)

The classic "mystery meat" lunch joke has been done so many times that it's practically expected when discussing school lunches, but while some school districts may still be stuck in stereotypical Lunch Lady Land, many districts are making an effort to diversify their lunch menus. In fact, several federally assisted programs that supply schools with healthier lunch options have been in effect for decades. For example, the National School Lunch Program, which provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to school children, was signed into effect in 1946 by President Harry Truman.

Other federally assisted programs like the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which provides fruits and veggies to elementary students, and Let's Move, which was launched by the First Lady in 2010, also focus on adding nutrition to school lunches in order to help form healthy eating habits among students across the country. And although many school lunches have become more nutritious, some schools are saying "no thanks" to the National School Lunch Program.

national school lunch program
(Photo: Times Union)

In 2010, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act required that more grains and fresh fruits and veggies be incorporated into the National School Lunch Program, which sounds great in theory. But in reality, those immediate changes were hard for school districts to follow because the kids weren't choosing the better-for-them options when it came time for lunch. And because those healthier options weren't being purchased, it led to a loss in revenue for the schools, making it harder for them to afford to stick with the National School Lunch Program.

>> Read more: 5 Reasons You Should Pack Your Kid's Lunch

And while those various federally-assisted programs have improved the nutrition in many school districts' lunches, not all students feel the same way. Fed Up, an online project that showcases school lunches by allowing students across the country to upload photos of their food, aims to equip "young people who are upset with what they're being served with ways to make change in their school." For example, once students upload a photo of their lunch to Fed Up's website, they can download a kit with advice on advocating for better school lunches in their district.

Fed Up lunch
(Photo: Fed Up)


Fed Up is able to showcase both nutritious and, for lack of a better word, disgusting school lunches across the nation. For example, some students' lunches from Fed Up are questionable at best, like the ground beef sandwich pictured above. But others look like they'd be pretty tasty and nutritious as well, like this "Snack Wrap Attack."

While the various programs do their best to incorporate healthy options into school lunches, it may still be best to pack your child's lunch so you know exactly what they're getting. For quick, easy and healthy school lunch ideas, click here!