Day 16: peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Today’s menu: peanut butter and jelly graham cracker sandwich, apple juice, fruit cup (peaches), milk

I could barely eat this meal so I didn’t. And then I was deliriously ravenous driving to get my little one.

And then it got worse.

I got sick when I got home. I can’t say what exactly did it. Whether it was the lunch (I ate only half of one sandwich) or the not eating enough (also family history of vertigo) or taking a vitamin towards the end of the day without much in my stomach or just plain getting sick….
I feel better now. I probably didn’t eat enough. You know, I think I’m going to pack a lunch for tomorrow. In general I don’t look at the lunch menu for a extra “surprise,” but I can’t do it after this night in the bathroom. I can’t make my husband do all the work two nights in a row. Until I feel better I’m doing the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) and I’m sure none of those foods are on the menu.

I noticed a LOT of kids with packed lunches today. Maybe they knew something I didn’t.


Earlier in the day I asked the kids what they thought of the lunch. Some ate it and said they thought it was “good.” A couple kids did not eat it. Tons of packed lunches though. Maybe 20%? Trust me, that’s a lot.

I asked a couple kids if they ate the peaches and they looked at me strangely and said, “no.” I don’t think they even opened the packages.


I took a photo of the nutritional facts. Each sandwich was 318 calories. Because the other food items haven’t listed the calories, I never knew. Looking at the calories made it hard for me to choke this one down.

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79 thoughts on “Day 16: peanut butter and jelly sandwich”

  1. This is a horror show. A peanut butter sandwich–something that is easy to make well and healthfully (not to mention affordably)–turned into a plastic-wrapped gut bomb. When the Food Industry has convinced us we're too stupid to make a peanut butter sandwich from scratch, we are in deep trouble.

  2. This is an elementary school right?

    I don't know what area you're from, but your school's lunches are beyond awful.

    They almost don't look like they pass as food sometimes.  They might as well be giving the kids tv dinners.

    I remember growing up we already had a small salad bar in the cafeteria.

    You'd get your main food.  Whatever the two choices were.  Then you'd get some veggies that you liked.  And some fruit.  I'm sure a lot of it was from cans or frozen.  But I'm sure it was far less processed than what you've been showing us.  Heck if we forgot our lunch, the lunch lady would make a pb sandwich for you.

    Even coming back to volunteer at the schools not a whole lot has changed except they are more strict about what the kids bring in and had made certain that the kids picked up at least some fruit if not some veggies.

    If I might make a suggestion, it would be great if you expanded your operation.  I know you're only doing this for one month.  But it would be cool if you asked other teachers from other schools and districts what they have for school lunches.  All grade levels.  K-12  You could ask for a picture at least.  And maybe a comment if they are up for it.  It could give a much broader view of what's out there.  Because honestly, I've never seen school lunches so bad before.

  3. The most disgusting thing about the graham crackers? They look soggy in the picture. Healthiness aside, I still wouldn't eat it because of the texture.

    There has been a stomach virus going around in our area lately, so that could account for your illness. Hope you feel better!

  4. I do not think you are going to die, get any of the food borne illnesses, campylobacter, shigella, salmonella, e-coli, yersinia, etc..,,, blah blah from PBJ in a school lunch. Although several outbreaks of salmonella poisoning have been tied to jars of peanut butter. Symptoms include @ 12-72 hrs

    Abdominal Cramps

    I don't think peanut butter would cause vertigo unless you have underlying BPPH (google it), or orthostatic hypostension suggesting dehydration from skipping lunch. A little melodramatic for my taste HOWEVER… WTF?!?! seriously that lunch is eff'd up. I hope our world reaches peak oil soon if we haven't already so we can decimate what we call a species. Bah let the roaches take over. Your lunch sucks.

  5. It sounds like you had a problem with your blood sugar. Take a chromium supplement every day. I used to get dizzy at 5:00 just before dinner and would have to wolf down something so my blood sugar would get back in order. I read in the Well Being Journal about how we have low amounts of chromium in our system. So I decided to take a supplement in October 2008. What a difference it has made to my life. I also checked with my doctor and she was fine with it. I lost 33lbs too as I was watching my calorie intake at the same time. Do some research on blood sugar and chromium. Good Luck! Nancy

  6. First, I'm really sorry you are sick. That's a bummer. What really caught my attention was the poor excuse for a PBJ sandwich. I can't even call it that. It doesn't even look healthy. There is something just WRONG about shrink-wrapped PBJs. Darlene is right, these sandwiches are inexpensive to make at home, so why is a cafeteria even serving them?

    What is wrong with us that we have reduced the only healthy meal some kids get in a day to shrink-wrapped dreck?

  7. I hope you feel better. I too am disgusted by your schools sad excuse of PB&J. At our school the kids get a real one, made on real bread so it is a step up. I am also disturbed by how everything is pre-packaged :S! However, good luck, I look forward to reading more.

  8. in addition to my prior post, I might be willing to look into my schools lunched and take pictures…however no promises on eating what is served as I am a selective eater!

  9. Chromium, seriously?!?! What research, prospective double blind studies have been done on the effects of chromium on carbohydrate and lipid metabolism? How do you gauge chromium deficiency. What is the effective dose of chromium? You do know that chromium toxicity has been shown to cause chromosomal damage in hamster cells, right? I admit blood sugar is a common problem for diabetics type I and II however our body's ability under normal non stressed, non diseased states to regulate body serum glucose is second to none. we can regulate gluconeogenesis, glycolysis, ketolysis, etc.., under extremes of startvation of plenty without fluctuations in blood sugar. Bah whatever eat as much chromium? as you want, ill see you in the ICU. Your lunches suck. Your students parents suck for having them.

  10. The first thing I thought when I saw this – I would rather eat those excuses for sandwiches called Uncrustables that you can buy in the freezer section. What you were served was JUST AWFUL! The second thing I thought was – guess no one has peanut allergies in that school! Or, is the fact that they are individually wrapped enough to keep the allergic people safe? Either way. EWW EWW EWW. Also – fruit juice AND fruit???? By far the worst lunch we've seen so far by a long shot.

  11. What is in those sammies that makes them 318 kcal each?! Crazy. And not even on real bread.

  12. I'm guessing the problem was taking the vitamin on an empty stomach. I've made this mistake more than once.

  13. That's not a lunch. Each of those items are sides that go with a real lunch. This is a collection of desserts. If I had a child and I found out this was what passed for a "meal" at their school, the least I would do would be to eke out an extra 20 minutes each night to pack them a lunch. The next step would be to register a formal complaint with the school.

    I have a hard time imagining the money that went to a foil-packaged graham cracker PB&J couldn't have easily gone to, say, raw vegetables. 318 calories, half of those from fat… this is shameful.

  14. new commenter here!

    i am a teacher's assistant at a public child development center and i can relate to your experiences eating cafeteria food. however, our district has been cutting back, and the kids are getting lackluster meals as an indirect result. our school doesn't received packaged food such as yours, however, our food probably isn't much healthier.

    today, for example, we had hamburgers (with BBQ? sauce on it) on a wheat bun, applesauce and milk.

    i still feel pretty fortunate because the kids seem to enjoy the semi-decent offerings, and since our food is served family-style, portions can be controlled.

    i'm excited to continue reading your (mis)adventures in cafeteria eating!

  15. My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed! You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”

    – Andre Bauer, lieutenant governor of South Carolina and candidate for S.C. governor

    said 1/22/10 in reference to school lunches

    – unbelievable

  16. @ bigbnlc – looked up Andre Bauer, since I missed that whole moronic thing he said in the media, and found out he was a Varsity cheerleader in University (heh-heh!) – Whoa, a real wealth of intellect there… Probably learned the rest of his manners from the golf course at his daddy's private country club…

    Anyway, regarding the PB&J lunch – all I saw on that tray was sugar in many forms in all the items. I got a headache just looking at the picture.

  17. First off, it is disgusting to feed anyone that standard of "food." I have seen that "lunch" at middle school's cafeterias in Tampa, FL (only our pb&j cracker sandwich is in blue and silver wrapping). They used to also serve them for breakfast. 318 calories & a whopping amount of SUGAR+kids sitting all day,lounging after-school== stored energy for future use== fat storage.

    For 5 days they are pumped up with starches and sugars and do not burn it all off—except for the very lucky few that are born with that prized inborn high metabolism gene.

    As far as your health issue that day goes, I know from experience what lack of eating can do, especially to those who experience a very high level of exertion (be it mentally OR physically) throughout the day. It is exactly as you described. If you take any kind of prescriptions or medicine that can bother you on an inadequately filled stomach, the effect is magnified.

    The pix are great & so real. I am upgrading to a camera phone soon, and might take a few shots of my own on the slide @ a Tampa middle school. Can't do the experiment, though. Had gastric bypass 7 years ago, and my digestive system cannot handle the make-up of the school food.

    Thanks for keeping up with the blog. It is really important for people on the outside to know. As a teacher, we have the "inside scoop" on lots of happenings in our schools.

    Hope you feel better.

  18. Taking a vitamin on an empty stomach always makes *me* toss my cookies, but I always feel completely better as soon as I'm done. It's either food poisoning or a stomach bug.

  19. Vitamins on an empty or nearly empty stomach make me hurl too. I actually quit taking vitamins for years before I realized I could take them with dinner.

    Thank you for taking these pictures – I don't have kids, so I had't realized how much things had changes since my childhood.

    Would you consider making a flickr stream of the pictures? That would make it easier to click through and see the photos en masse, they would have more of a visual impact but less commentary.

  20. This is such a revolutionary idea, and I'm so interested in how this all turns out for you. I was not encouraged to eat school lunches growing up because of the high fat, sodium and sugar content, and the boring canned sogginess which they called greenbeans always looked disgusting. The National School Lunch Program really needs a revamping and your experiment is just the jumpstart kick it needs. Thank you for realizing this problem. I hope you stop feeling sickly soon and the school lunches for the rest of the week are a little more nourishing. Best of luck!

  21. I happened to be at my kids' school this morning when they announced the meal for today. It was similarly a carbohydrate nightmare. I'm so glad we pack our son's lunch.

    God help us all.

  22. 318 calories doesn't seem like too much for me for a lunch! Wouldn't growing children need at least that amount to get through the afternoon?

    If you were to make a PBJ at lunch, you'd have 2 120-calorie or so slices of bread, 2 TBS of peanut butter at 190 calories, plust at least 50 calories for the jelly. That's almost 500 calories! I'm sure it's a lot healthier than the processed "graham cracker" one, but I don't understand why people seem shocked at a calorie count of 318.

  23. I don't know how good you people are at judging calories, but 318calories for a PB&J sandwhich is pretty normal – 100calories per slice of bread, then another 100 calories left over from peanut butter and sugary jelly. Pretty reasonable.

    What is not reasonable is that meal. Graham cracker crust should not be a replacement for bread – real, whole grain bread. And then jelly, apple juice, and a fruit cup? Really? Couldn't they have replaced one of the fruits, and I use that name loosely, with a vegetable?

    And it does seem like a calorie load to have two 318 calorie sandwiches, but if it really is true that this could be the only meal that kids eat that day then it seems ok. Though waaaay better executed.

  24. Your recent PBJ and cheese sandwich adventures plus the comments asking about the nutritional requirements schools have to follow reminds me of the time I was in school and we had a blackout. With no electricity, the school cafeteria couldn't "cook" our usual fare of frozen breaded meat products and canned vegetables, so we all got a choice of either PBJ or a cheese sandwich.

    In order to meet the minimum requirement of protien, each of those cheese sandwiches had like 5 or 6 Kraft processed cheese singles on them (white bread of course). Needless to say, most kids got the pbj, so when they got to my class, they were out and we could only get the cheese sandwiches. Those were either not eaten or kids took off part of the cheese, but all they have to do is serve you the minimum required food, they can't make you actually eat it.

    I guess my point is that your school may very well be following the nutritional guidelines. That doesn't necessarily mean the food would be good. For one thing, they seem to have no limit on carbohydrates (they're the base of the USDA food pyramid after all!), and protien wouldn't have to necessarily be in any sort of appetizing form (processed cheese or sugary peanut butter counts), tator tots probably count as a vegetable and fruit cups packed in syrup or fruit punch count as fruit.

    The fruit cups are probably usually frozen because they come that way and the lunch ladies take them out of the freezer in the morning, and they may not have time to thaw by lunch time.

  25. Not only does that lunch look awful, but I'm shocked that the school is serving PB! Peanut butter is like a swear word at my kids school due to so many allergies.

  26. I'm sorry the lunchs in your district are this way. Do you feel you can't approach your school district officials to try to make changes? I'm sorry. Or, do you hope to take this blog to them to show how others react as well?

  27. In reply to "bigbnlc":

    Please do some research before you make uninformed statements!

    Here is a good link:

    And the following statement is part of the article I have posted above:

    What are the health risks of too much chromium?

    Few serious adverse effects have been linked to high intakes of chromium, so the Institute of Medicine has not established a Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL) for this mineral [10,14]. A UL is the maximum daily intake of a nutrient that is unlikely to cause adverse health effects.

  28. The state of Texas has really stringent rules regarding what can and can't be served in school cafeterias. I don't think anything on your blog would pass muster in Texas…that's assuming it passes as food to begin with. Disgusting!

  29. Hopefully, it was just taking vitamins on an empty stomach. Also, even when you start to feel better, you should probably still pack yourself a lunch just in case the slop being served is just too awful.

    Side-note: 318 calories in a single sandwich the size of a school milk? Are they replacing the jelly with lard? And why two? Ugh.

  30. Wow. I was just pointed to your blog from a Twitter post from an acquaintance of mine and I am thrilled and impressed with your project! I've been scrolling through your posts, and what strikes me first is the INSANE amount of packaging in these lunches! Personally, when I'm trying to reduce costs, I look for things with less packaging, not more. Surely school districts get economy of scale? Secondly, 20% of kids with packed lunches? Boy things have changed a lot since I was a kid, when the breakdown was much closer to half and half. And the last thing my mother would have tolerated was paying for a lunch that she could have made at home for less. (And she did, as I ate homemade PB&J pretty much every day for about 6 years — I was a very picky eater.)

    Our school has an "open lunch" policy — parents are welcome to join their child for lunch any day. My daughter is in Kindergarten right now so she's not eating lunch at school, and I'm wondering how many of the parents join their kid for lunch at least once during the school year (and now I'm wondering what they see when they get there!) Thanks for opening some eyes. Hope your tummy is okay.

  31. I am struck senseless by the degree to which everything is individually wrapped in plastic. Is the world so paranoid about contamination? I'm old, but not that old and when I was in school, the only thing that came enclosed was our milk carton.
    I am a father of two and make their lunches every day. You are a brave woman to put yourself through this for our amusement. Thank you.

  32. There are so many things wrong with this picture! Does that say 310 calories per "sandwich" and they serve TWO of them?

    And I'd have to gree with other that it had to be the vitamin on an empty stomach.
    How do you eat this crap?

  33. thank you the rabbi's wife for mentioning the article in the new York Times yesterday – I read it also and wondered if Mrs Q's school followed this recommended schedule. Hope you are feeling better, Mrs Q!

  34. I am interested to know how many of the comments (site-wide) have been related to how harmful all of the packaging is for the earth, versus how many have been related to how horrible it must be for the children who have only these school lunches to rely on.

    I live in Las Vegas, where our elementary lunches (at least when I ate them, quite awhile ago) were at least as horrible as these, only with less fruit. We have possibly dozens of Title IX schools where over 85% of the children are on free/reduced price lunches. Not to mention all of the schools that don't qualify for Title IX, that still average over 50%.

    I believe in recycling and reducing packaging with all my heart, but I much more strongly believe that all children have the right to eat. Moreso, to eat foods that will contribute to their physical and mental health and concentration to enable them to escape their circumstances.

  35. Thanks for all your support! I'm doing a lot better. I can't say what it was that did it, but I actually felt a lot better before I went to bed.

    Anonymous — there is a ton of packaging and a lot of waste in general.

  36. Our elementary school serves a similar graham cracker sandwich for breakfast. For lunch(if you are getting a sandwich) it is a PBJ uncrustable, in plastic wrap. the kids have a choice every day of hot lunch, cold sandwich, or salad. Our lunches are beginning to look better and better!

  37. Why are you doing this to yourself? How does one more poisoned person make things better for the kids? Can't we do something to protest school "lunches" without eating them? Yuck.

  38. That PB & J "sandwich" looks soooo disgusting. My mom always packed my lunch in elementary school and junior high, and you're reminding me to be very appreciative of that fact! ( Of course, once I got to high school and it wasn't "cool" to pack your lunch, I ate a cream cheese bagel every day, b/c that was the only vegetarian option…)

  39. At our school they serve Uncrustables. IMO they are not food and it's ridiculous that they can't just make PB&J, but they look infinitely more appetizing than whatever that is you were served.

  40. I just want to tell you that your school "lunches" look better than those provided at the school I work at. I have _no_ _idea_ about what these people are saying when they comment they've never seen lunches as bad as yours. Mine are worse – they are definitely worse.

  41. I think the people that have ultimate control over what gets served to the kids should also have to eat it. I bet that would mean some changes pretty quickly!

  42. I agree with everything people said here plus I must add an additional exclamation of disgust for the amount of trash that I can only imagine is being created at your school each and every day. Multiply this by thousands of schools nationwide and I'm just overwhelmed. In reality, kids will choose lots of disgusting things to eat if they are left alone to decide, so it shouldn't be up to them to decide if it is "good or great", it should be up to their parents. In reality, many of their parents may not prepare food that is that much better than what they have at school, nutritionally speaking. I know I had friends like this growing up. I shudder to think of things that were prepared for dinner at some of my friends homes. My mother was always very concerned about nutrition, so of course, this was instilled in me. I have worked at schools for years, from elementary to high school, and have witnessed much worse lunches being served to our kids, especially at the high school level (taco bell, pizza, burgers, hot dogs, burritos everyday and they don't have to take the fruit or salad if they don't want to and it's usually of disgusting quality anyway). It is such a disgrace!

  43. Wow! That looks like about 900 calories (636 for sandwiches, 180 for milk, 60 for the apple juice and maybe about 60 for the fruit cup (depending on whether the fruit was in juice or syrup) for one meal. That's kinda crazy, but I suppose it is a good amount of food if they expect some to be tossed or the kids don't get any other meals. The amount of sweet items is rather concerning though.

    Do they ever offer anything but milk to drink? I always hated and still hate drinking liquid milk. My school always offered fake juice flavored things, but I figured they were better than milk. All I really wanted was water.

    The amount of trash is very concerning. It makes me realize why people think nothing of eating everything out of packets and wrapper even once they grow into an adult. It's normalized from a young age! When I was in school, we were served sandwiches in clear plastic bags with the buns and meat already assembled inside, always covered with condensation. At least people were served Fritos in their Frito pie's scooped from a large bag instead of single serving chip bags. Does the school teach anything about recycling?

  44. When I was in school (in the 70s), a number of kids were on a subsidized lunch program. For many, that was the only actual meal they got on a weekday. They had no choice in what they got on their trays. Our cafeteria lunches were a little better than the ones shown here, but not by a huge margin. Sadly, most of the parents who had the time to complain about these crappy meals were the ones who had time (and money) to pack lunches. The parents of the kids on the subsidized lunches were working multiple jobs and didn't have the time or inclination to complain. Free calories were still calories…

    In the town I live in now, the school system has state-mandated contracts with certain food vendors. They couldn't get fresh fruit if they wanted to. The kids suffer so the corporate buddies of the politicos can get their profits.

    On top of all that, the kids who eat the so-called "PB&J" lunches like this one will have a hard time cooking for themselves later on in life- they'll be too used to seeing heavily packaged edibles as normal food.

    Great blog, please keep up the good work! It's made me "het up" enough to get involved in this issue.

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