Does Your Child Eat School Cafeteria Food?

Does Your Child Eat School Cafeteria Food?
Photo by "Mrs. Q" with permission

Anonymous blogger Mrs. Q wrote on her blog Fed Up With Food for one year (2010) documenting daily Chicago Public School lunches.  She recently revealed herself as parent and speech pathologist Sarah Wu, just in time for her new book to come out.  Every day she secretly photographed the lunch and critiqued its healthy qualities.

Since my son began kindergarten this fall, his favorite part of school has by far been the cafeteria.  The first day he realized that you can eat breakfast and lunch at school by simply handing over a ticket.  I explained to him that I had to pay for those meals and my hand packed lunches are much more nutritious and delicious, but that exactly is why he wanted them.  He has been eating my primarily organic, preservative free food for his whole life; he sees a bright light of never before eaten foods.

After some research I actually agreed to this meal plan for a few reasons.

1. Price. After doing the math, one meal at full priced is approximately $1.75 if buying a pack of 10 meals.  I’m pretty sure I couldn’t beat that cost packing a complete lunch, even after buying in bulk at Costco.

2. Convenience. The thought of not worrying about assembling a lunch every morning or having the right foods in the house after 5 years of preparing (and cleaning up) 3 meals a day is very appealing.

3. Variety. The monthly menu came home and I was impressed by the diversity.  Here are some samples from the October 2011 menu.


Cheesy Egg, Potato & Turkey Sausage Incrdi-bowl


Whole Wheat Bagel

Fresh Pear


Vegetarian Chili with Beans


Chipotle Bean Bowl

Garden Vegetables

Fresh Orange

Tortilla Rounds (Whole Grain)

That doesn’t sound terrible?  It covers all of the food groups and sounds fresh and warm.   I’m thrilled that my boy comes home raving about the chicken biscuit and I have some downtime outside of the kitchen.

Then I happened to be in the classroom one day and walked with the kids down to lunch to check out the famous cafeteria. The food looked more disgusting then those shown in Fed Up With Food’s blog.  I’m shocked that my son will turn his nose up at my heartfelt cooking and eat this mechanically produced unappetizing mush.  The fruit cups sit in sugary syrup, I’ve only seen untouched vegetables in the “salad bar” and my boy admitted to drinking chocolate milk every day.

So what is the solution?  I know it is hard to cheaply and effectively feed a school of all ages.  I applaud Sara Wu for opening the eyes of many parents who are naive to the meals being served in our schools.  I hope we can continue to teach the next generation the importance of well-balanced fresh meals.

Do you think I should insist my kid eats meals that I can control?  I touched on this topic in my post questioning McDonalds. Clearly I need to give up my grip and teach my children to make logical choices and lead by example.  I simply wish the place we take our kids daily to learn would teach them the importance of nutrition.


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    I let my son get the school lunch once a week. The menu comes home monthly so we can look in advance and pick the day based on the available selections. It's usually pizza day but he is excited about trying the bean burrito next week! The other days, I feel better about giving him the lunch that I pack for him. I also pay for milk on Monday every week, but he only gets white. So far it's worked out and he seems satisfied with the once a week compromise and it give him something to look forward to.

  • I've been following Mrs. Q since the beginning and just got her book! I am excited to crack it open. When that will be, I don't know. December probably.

    Anyway, I think I am lucky that my 1st grader is so picky. She doesn't like the school food at all. She likes to get pizza on pizza day but that's pretty much it. She does like the breakfast, though, mainly because its usually something sugary. Grrrr...

    AND she drinks chocolate milk Every. Single. Day. which I hate but I am not there to keep her from drinking it. So I just accept that she will drink chocolate milk and limit the sugar in other areas.

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