I probably could not have taken on this project if I didn’t have a nice long summer break in the middle of the year. I’m looking forward to eating lunches I prepare myself.


I’m thinking about doing some kind of extension of the project over the summer. I am definitely going to do some kind of “cleanse” in June. Nothing crazy, but more of a “30 days of whole foods.”

It would be fun to travel to a country where school is in session and see what they are eating. That would be hard to swing, but it would be so interesting.

Or I could try to make a healthy lunch every day for the cost of a school lunch $2.92 (per the School Nutrition Association). The average school lunch program gets reimbursed at $2.68, leaving a shortfall. I think I could make a healthy lunch for $1.00 per day.

Have any ideas for what I should do over the summer? You guys are so creative.

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68 thoughts on “Summer”

  1. You should visit Australia, which will be nice and cool for a northern hemisphere type, and see what our schools are like, and compare and contrast the overall program to your local program.

    Myself, I grew up in the US, and find lunch here /vasty/ different than when I went to school. Enough so that I very much want to visit my high school now and see what lunches are like there these days.

  2. Maybe you could visit some schools in the US that grow some of their own veggies since the summer months are the most laborious? You could report back about ways schools are finding low-cost alternatives to what you've been eating?

  3. I think trying to make a healthy lunch that is the same or less as schools spend would be really interesting.

  4. Oh, I'm totally down for you trying to make a healthy lunch for yourself for the same or less than your school.

  5. Come to New York City's District 75, the special education district! Our lunches are actually decent, even though we still have pizza every Friday (it's pretty good pizza, actually). Every day, the kids get a protein, a starch, cooked vegetables, fresh fruit, and fat-free chocolate milk, 1% milk, or fat-free milk. Barring that, I love the idea of making a healthy lunch for the same amount of money as the schools do.

  6. I like the idea of making your own lunches for a dollar a day. Some school districts in California (and maybe elsewhere?) have year-round school. That would be an easier trip and might also somewhat interesting – though out of the country would be more interesting.

  7. Try to go to Spain and enjoy three-course healthy kid meals prepared from scratch in any public school or daycare.

  8. I am Australian, and while I think you would have a great time here, you won't see many school lunch programs!
    I would want to go to Italy or Spain! And if you can't travel, what a great idea to make your $1 lunches!

  9. A Southern Hemisphere school would be good, but keep in mind that in some countries (like NZ) generally don't offer a school lunch as your school does. We have "tuck shops" in most high schools, where students can purchase snacks, and there are a few healthier options like filled rolls and home-baked slices, although chocolate bars, meat pies and those "ribwich" type things are more popular. However one such shop at another high school did away with unhealthy snacks altogether a few years ago. Sorry, that was a bit off-topic.
    So while I'm off-topic… I am also proud to say that in my brief check of chocolate milk on the weekend, high fructose corn syrup did not feature in the ingredients list 😀

  10. Please remember that the $2.68 pays for labor, insurance for those employees, deliveries, buildings, sanitation, training, computers, paper, applications for reduced/free meals, ovens, steam lines, freezers, electric, water, trash pick up, natural gas, gasoline, maintenance, uniforms, air conditioning, heat, and food. And that that amount is only when a student that qualifies for the Free reimbursement rate. Meals for regular priced students are reimbursed at $.26. Districts usually have just over a dollar to provide the food. It is an amazing balance!

  11. I live in Houston (duh, HoustonGurly!)… Houston Independent School District serves FREE school breakfast and lunch to children 18 and younger during the summer (from late May through the end of June). No strings or paperwork attached. You should look into that. Per my daughter, her school lunches don't look half as bad as the ones you've been photographing… They don't come in those containers.

  12. I just saw this blog for the first time. THANK YOU! I grew up in AZ and ate cereal at home for breakfast and school lunches. I had no idea at that time how much I was hurting my body, or you may say not being as good to my body as I could've been. AND I had no idea that poor nutrition was much of the reason I struggled in school. We are in Louisiana for a couple of years and my son started preschool this year. I didn't even give it a chance. You're right. When you become a parent, you want to give your kid every advantage and take genuine care. He takes his own breakfast and lunch to school even though he was approved for reduced lunch ($0.40/lunch). It's not an extravagant setup but I know it's all good and what he has eaten for the whole day so that his all around diet is well balanced. I didn't read all your entries, a little more than half. I love the HFCS discussion but what about the discussion of "wheat", "white", "made with whole grains", and "100% whole grains". I would really like to see 100% whole grains in schools. Otherwise, what's the point of the grain? Thank you for doing this! I admire you for being brave, strong, self-sacrificial, perservering, and for the kids and this country's future!!! Thank you, I can't say it enough.

  13. i would like to see what kind of healthy lunches you are able to make on the same amount or less money than school lunches.

  14. just came across your blog through aol, and read every post. i wanted to say that my school lunches in middle school were just like the pictures of those you are showing; unattractive, unhealthy, and barely edible. (i'm comparing the food to the organic, 5-grams-of-fiber diet that my mom maintains in my home) many of my friends ate only food from the snack line for lunch. that translates to cookies, icees, pretzels, fruitsnacks and nachos. however, lunches have improved (at least in my school district) from the time my older brothers were in middle school, and the lunches at high school are MUCH more healthy; we have fresh fruit, salads, and a sandwich bar (all daily!) in addition to the varying hot lunches. it should be this way in every school, and i'm glad that someone is making an effort! thank you for writing; i'll be reading and rooting for you!

  15. Presumably you already know about the What's For School Lunch? blog:

    Regular photos and descriptions of school lunches from around the world. Short version: seemingly everyone is doing this better than the US.

  16. I love the idea of trying to come up with a week's worth of recipes that you can make at the same cost as a school lunch. If that's what it costs you RETAIL, there's no question the schools could make it cheaper! Just avoid peanut products. 🙂

  17. If money is an issue re:travel (when isn't it?) you could add a Pay Pal link a la Julie Powell; I know I'd donate. I love the idea of making school lunch for the same money, though as "friend" points out, it's not all allocated to the food. Which *might* be part of the problem, yes?

    Also, I have a few questions, and apologize if you've answered them already. What's the ratio of brought to bought lunches? Are parents out of the habit of making lunch these days? Or is it an economic issue?

    Thanks so much for writing this blog. It's important work and you are generous and brave to do it.

  18. Thanks for taking on the task of highlight the healthy or unhealthy aspects of school lunch. An interesting program to highlight in the summer is the Summer Food Service Program. This program feeds kids all summer long who are under 18 and would probably be receiving free schools meals but can't in the summer. It is funded by the USDA and extremely under-utilized. Due to that fact the nutrition aspect is often ignored. What the program needs is someone on the pulpit to highlight this extremely necessary program and spread around information about it.


  19. The common international poverty line has been roughly $1 a day, or more precisely $1.08 at 1993… I think nobody can make a healthy lunch with that amount of money…

  20. All across the world, schools are providing nutritous lunches for our children, except for the US it seems. My youngest child is in high school, and the choices she has are fried chicken sandwiches, pizza sticks (mozzarella stuffed bread dipped in sauce), overcooked veggies, what they call salad (iceberg, carrot slivers and a dressing that is high fat). I have heard of schools that offer salad bars, and sandwich bars, but they aren't here in Florida. At the beginning of the year I sent an e-mail to the counties school nutritionist about how to get better lunches in our schools – of course, no one ever contacted me back. I send my daughter left overs in a thermos that keeps it very hot till her lunch time. They cost about $25 at Target, but considering she can have a healthy lunch, it was a good investment.

  21. I love the idea of challenging yourself to make healthy lunches for a dollar a day. Maybe you can get a nutritionist to help you!

  22. You are doing a great thing, is important to inform the people about what their children is eating. When I was a child I also used to have lunch inside the school, two times per week. Food was not really nicely prepared, but at that time [13 years ago] all of what we were eating camed from the local production. Now the american model is growing here in Italy also, probably for profit interest, and I'm afraid to see the children being fatter and fatter… excuse me for my bad English, bye!

  23. Oooh, Mrs. Q. When I saw that this blog made this morning, I thought you might be in store for some serious hits.

    I like the idea of cheap healthy lunches, but perhaps they should cost what you spend on school lunch each day to show the fresh bounty that COULD be offered?

  24. You think to live in the best country of the world ? really ? look at the food it's incredible ! you have no idea on good food for childrens …. no one italian or spanish o frech people think to eat some "things" you give to your childrens …. IT'S INCREDIBLE ! in the other you have the most powerful army in the world !!!! I'm very happy for you !!! for tomorrow … eat a bullet !!! or a chili …

  25. Have you read the book, Hungry Planet: What the World Eats – the authors photographed a week's worth of groceries of families from all over the world, and listed the cost. Maybe instead of traveling the world this summer (my first choice) you could ask people to send you a photo of what they bought to make a week's worth of lunches (for school and for work) and how much they spent. Just an idea.

  26. I used to do PR for a group called Fund For Teachers (

    They give out money to teachers who want to improve how they teach their students by going out and learning themselves. These projects range from attending conferences and seminars to travelling to other countries to see museums/observe students/etc. Your idea to go see how other students eat sounds like a very interesting project!

    I think their deadline may be past, but just wanted to let you know that you can certainly find funding for that sort of trip if you can apply it back to your classroom.

  27. Hello !
    People eat what they are… i hope you improve the quality of your food in future … and downgrade the quality of your weapons !

  28. Although preparing your own lunch for $1/day would be interesting, I don't think cafeterias can make the same individual-style lunch for hundreds of students. Maybe you could hunt around for some of the best cafeteria fare offered at other public schools in the U.S.

    Another idea would be to go look at public university cafeterias that stay open during the summer months. I know of a few that have pretty unhealthy options.

  29. I've been following this blog and I think it's really interesting how *different* the lunches are at your school than they are at mine. Not better or worse, just different. If you didn't want to go out of the country, maybe you could try some not-so-far-away schools in the US that have year-round school and give us a look at what other people are doing that might be different than your school.

  30. I like the approach of attempting to create homemade, wholesome foods for a low, fixed price amount. Perhaps you coul engage local chefs to provide ideas or even assist and then turn out a great cookbook. I could see that being a valuable book for those that do have kids and are concerned about their nutrition, but equally may have serious financial hardships. The book would be a way to show families it is possiblt to provide quality food at a low price. I could envision food manufacturers wanting to help and/or donate food stuffs for the project.

  31. I love the idea of making healthy lunches for less than $1 a day. Please post recipes and pics! I prefer to pack a lunch than eat out every day so your ideas could be very helpful.

    I also really like the idea of travelling to see what students eat for lunch in other areas. I think going to Japan or China would be really interesting (albiet expensive to get there).

  32. I love both ideas, but I think the healthy lunch for the amount the school spends is probably more affordable.

    Either way, I can't wait to read about it.

  33. Since you are in Illinois, St. Louis might now be too far for you and the Francis Howell School District has year round school.

  34. I meant to write "not too far" not "now too far."

    Francis Howell serves part of St. Charles county which is just outside St. Louis.

  35. Why not do a project with a class of yours, where you all come up with a recipe for a healthful lunch for $2.50 or less, and then share the recipes and spend one month actually eating those lunches? Might do something good to raise awareness amongst students too.

  36. Thank you for speaking up when you feel you have to even if it's scary to do it. I don't know if I could do the same.
    I'm getting a lot from this blog, the comments from all the different (and sometimes conflicting) viewpoints. Thank you to everyone who shares their views.
    I'm mostly impressed by your attitude. I hope I can be so open minded in my life (I tend to get a little hot headed if I think I'm right and someone else is wrong and disagreeing with me. Sometimes time shows me to be wrong later and it's so hard to admit that after being openly angry).
    You give a great deal by sharing what you feel is important and creating a safe place for others to express their thoughts.

    Thank you again

  37. Thank you… I was amazed by these school lunches. I will show them to my kids so they won't complain anymore 🙂 … their lunches are definitely not top-class cuisine, but at least they get a meal cooked on the premises (no Italian kid would eat the pasta and pizza I saw in your photos, anyway) and greens every day. No chips and no icee. It is true that Lunches are more expensive here, at least in our school.
    Keep up the good work… American kids will be healthier!
    Many greetings from Italy… please come here one day and youu'll change your mind about pizza I'm sure 🙂

  38. We're a military family and my son attends a DOD school here where we live (my daughter used to too but she's homeschooled now). Our schools are federally funded and the lunches are DISGUSTING. People who fight for their country cant even get their kids a decent meal at school. My sister in law is a DOD teacher in germany and aafes provides their lunch over there and its junk too even when good food could be provided by the german economy. It's pretty unreal! good for you for doing this…

  39. I'm interested in the healthy lunch for the amount the school spends idea, but I think you should be careful to find out the amount that actually goes toward cafeteria operations/overhead and make sure you're only spending the food money. Otherwise, I don't think it's fair to all those strapped school lunch programs.

  40. What's with all the packaging? When I was in school, 20+ years ago. There was no packaging, except the milk and the trays were washed. I'm concerned not only about the 'food' but all this waste. YUCK

  41. make healthy lunches with whole foods. support local, organic, hormone-free, etc. become a loyal farmer's market-ist. and then, when school goes back into session, see what happens to your palate and your body. b/c your posts about liking the food (most recently, today's pasta and last weeks pizza) are a little scary!

  42. You've inspired me to post my school lunches on my blog weekly. I'm teaching in three nursery schools near Hiroshima, Japan. As soon as I started, I noticed the vast difference in the lunch program here and my former school in America. I don't know that my lunches are typical of all Japan, but I hope you will take a look. Consider it an international counterpoint to your photos.
    Thank you for standing up for children.

  43. I love the idea of making your own lunches for the same cost as a school lunch. Perhaps you could also research/visit some places that have implemented school gardens. Even if school isn't in session, you could talk to the organizers and get some background info.

    Have fun planning!

  44. I vote for finding an alternative to the current lunches that are cost effective and nutritious. I started reading your blog as a special educator, turned health coach. I gave up school lunches two years ago, which were the staple of my diet due to ease and discounts for teachers. In a busy school day taking care of others, choking down a school lunch I could afford on my salary and did not have to prepare was convenient…until I was diagnosed with pre diabetes and heart problems. I found a program using High Quality Meal Replacements that are Dr. recommended and supervised out or John Hopkins Hospital. The meal replacements were the toll for me to lose 75 pounds during the busy day of teaching students with severe special needs…duty free lunch really did not happen…so as I lost the weight others wanted to know how I did it and I became a coach for them to learn. There are students in our local high school using these meal replacements that are about $1.50 to $2.00 each to overcome obesity issues. This may be something to look into. The company who makes the meal replacements has a earning plan for the health coach……why couldn't a school system take advantage of that earning income on the meal replacements. As a school board employee, I too have to be careful of how I speak out on this issue. There are alternatives out there that do not involve much preparation and/or limits the labor costs to a district, supplies all the dally needs of nutrition and will bring income into a district. Two years later I am still keeping the weight off, staying in a size 6, reduced my sugar levels and avoided medication for my heart, still using the meal replacements for ease, cost effectiveness and health. One of my parents lost 100 pounds with this program and is using the meal replacements at home with her son, who is autistic…..his behaviors have improved due to the change in his eating habits. YOU GO Mrs. Q……I love this blog! One person can make a difference and you are doing a wonderful thing. Thank you for the sacrifice of your time to do this blog and your perseverance despite the fears of administrative repercussions.

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