Day 44: Hot dog

Today’s menu: hot dog, whole wheat buns, beans, fruit cup, milk (for new readers: the milk is not pictured because I’m lactose intolerant)

I forgot to grab a ketchup packet so I had a rough time getting the hot dog down. The beans were good, but I avoided the fruit cup as usual and just munched on an apple I brought from home.

Kids love hot dogs and I also like a good hot dog in the summer (as I’ve said before I like to have a frank from the grill or at the ballpark). I don’t think there’s anything wrong with hot dogs in moderation, but I get upset when hot dogs are offered frequently to kids, especially during the winter when kids require more robust nutrition to prevent illness.

I worry that kids are getting offered junk and convenience food because adults believe that that’s all they will eat for school lunch. Obviously we want kids to eat, but should not cater to what a 7 year old would theoretically prefer to eat.

Does a schoolchild have the decision making power or the palate to have a preference? Aren’t we in the business of educating children not them dictating what they want? Do they really have a clue what they should or shouldn’t be eating?

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124 thoughts on “Day 44: Hot dog”

  1. After looking at all of the food that you've pictured up here, I have to wonder… is anything actually fixed and prepared from scratch in the cafeteria at your school? Or is all this pre-packaged food? I have never seen a school cafeteria serve food in pre-packaged containers like that before, with the exception of cold plates and sandwiches at college which I know were prepared by hand.

  2. My students actually enjoy the vegetables. . .when they are provided. Unfortunately, half the time, everything on the tray is the same color. 🙁 French fries, fried meats, white starchy bread, fried okra. . .I live in the South, but everything doesn't need to be fried. Our breakfast meals are almost worse. . .pizza for breakfast is not okay! Neither is a hot dog disguised as a "Pancake pup!" Oh dear. . .

  3. I recently stopped feeding my 3 year old "kid food" like mac & cheese, nuggets, etc. I make him try the foods he is scared of and he actually likes weird things (cabbage, steak, potatoes with skin) and then he'll eat them again. So, I think if kids are exposed to other foods, they will eat them.

  4. So depressing! My daughter goes to a fantastic preschool that makes lunch every day from scratch. It's loaded with at least 4 kinds of veggies and 2 kinds of fruit, plus a great daily variety of protein, beans, rice, noodles, and ethnic foods. I'm scared about what she'll see in public school. She's to young to make a healthy choice.

  5. Acculturation is the strongest force. We eat what we learned to eat as children growing up, and it takes a lot to overcome that conditioning.

  6. 7 year old kids think junk food is good because we give it to them. if we didnt give it to them they would love the other healthier foods. it just has to be cooked correctly.

    for instance…over-cooking spinach…i wouldnt even eat it. but if you cook it until just the sugars come out of it…(literally 1-2 minutes) it tastes sooooo sweet.

    its about changing the way society thinks about actual food…and that anything green is gross. its just because most people dont know how to cook.

  7. The school my son went to last year (before we changed schools) made very little, if anything at all, from scratch. Much of it was frozen and heated to serve. Pathetic. And hot dogs should be served only rarely. They have no nutritional value.

  8. Hi Mrs.Q!

    This blog is excellent! I think it's truly amazing that you're doing this and putting up with this substandard food, I don't know if I would be able to…

    I also have to wonder if your school cafeteria does any actual "cooking." I think this is somewhat of a disgrace, to be honest: being hired as a school cook, only to have to microwave hundreds of plastic containers full of processed food. How is that fulfilling the duties of a cook?! All that waste, it makes me cringe. Is there a reason there is so much packaging?

    Thanks for your commitment to getting this issue out there!!

    -Ryan 🙂

  9. This looks horrible! I'm actually really fortunate, it seems. I'm an Upstate NY Public Highschool Senior, and as of recently (the last two years) our school lunch has improved tremendously! My favorite lunches at school include:
    A marinated tomato and mozzarella cheese on a bagle,
    A Veggie and Hummus Wrap/Bagel
    A Corn,Blackbean and Salsa Wrap (it's awesome)
    and we have really got hot foods too!

    Our sides are pretty awesome too, haha. We have cobblers and really good soups (except for split pea,I hate split pea–but I hear from others that it's good) and salads. I love their tortolini salad.

    I guess our school took the memo! I hope all other schools can follow in suit!

    Feel free to contact me at

  10. I teach in a public school in Oklahoma and, I must say, these lunches look horrible compared to the food we have at our school. We usually have real cooked food, veggies (that many of the kids choose not to touch even when given the option) a salad bar, no other junk food or hot food bar, are served a lot of fresh fruit for dessert, and most of the time it's like eating at home. Okay, I admit there are some things I don't like….the pizza for one, but the kids love it, and it looks nothing like what I see in these photos. Nothing we have comes packaged the way this food is….good grief, if I had to eat the food in these photos I might lose a lot of weight!!!!

  11. A lot of this food come prepackaged because the lunch service is outsourced. In the city school district in our area, the lunch service is outsourced to aramark, a for-profit company. The food is prepackaged so it can be microwaved or convection heated in bulk very quickly. The same idea as a tv dinner. The problem is that a for-profit company is providing the lunch service and their number one goal is not customer service, as their customers "don't have a voice" but profits. It is a sad state of affairs. I don't see how it's truly cheaper to pay a for-profit company to create something that in-house employees could do cheaper and better. I believe it's another place our crony politicians have the general public duped. Blame the unions and "high cost of labor" and funnel money to friends.

  12. i'm a new reader. i'm only 28 years old, and i remember my school days like they were yesterday. while the food we were given was pretty much un-digestible garbage, i don't remember any of it being packaged in their own containers like t.v. dinners. is this a new thing?

    while i'm really not surprised this stuff is being served due to the cheap cost of food like this, i will always be shocked when i remember that this stuff is being given to children.

    i wish you continued success with your blog, and i hope with all my heart that you continue your crusade long after your experiment. this topic is one that is sadly overlooked again and again.

    best of luck, i can't wait to read more.

  13. II entirely agree with all of this. At my school, lunches are pretty much the same, but worse. Since the food comes partially prepared and just is not high-quality all around, kids are looking for other options. I am very happy that we have a salad bar, but it doesn't give you enough topping to provide a well-rounded meal. So, in the end, kids choose the fruit roll-ups, slushes or the ice cream bars instead of actual healthy food. It doesn't sound as bad as yours, but I definitely think that something must be done at the federal level of the gov't so that all kids in the US are able to have healthy meals. Since most kids go to public schools and the US is one of the most obese countries in the world, it would seem that school lunches are a priority.

  14. You're amazing. I wish I had thought of this when I was in high school! Except in high school I never ate a school lunch even a single day. Why? Because it was always the same overpriced, mealy cheeseburgers from the day before, cold rubbery fries, moldy looking pizza, and soda. I usually prefered to go without.

    Thank you so much for this awesome blog. I hope this ends up catalyzing a much stronger movement for children's health and opposition to microwaved meals (which it seems they're feeding you).

  15. Kids will eat healthy stuff IF it's available, appealing and easy to eat. Unfortunately, due to budget and time constraints and the need to feed a lot of people quickly, cafeterias serve mushy overcooked vegetables (unappealing) and whole fruit (hard to eat). Given the choice between those options and a slice of pizza, I'd go for the pizza in a New York minute – and I'm 30 years older and presumably wiser than an elementary-school student.

  16. I hate the fact that my step daughter thinks this is normal food. She dosent know what to do with "real" food that we serve her. She cant handle not having "meat" on her plate, although I have yet to classify what she considers meat actually whole meat. I think its a whipped up combo of sugar, meat by product, and fillers. God help our children. Another good reason for me to continue down the track of nutrition!

  17. I'm all for giving kids rights…to a point! I'm not sure an elementary school student should have a huge say in what they eat (unless a child is demanding more healthful foods). Children don't normally cook or prepare their own meals; it's the grown-ups who do that, and who should be responsible for getting nutritious food to their children. And, as a commenter said, if you feed healthful food to a child at a young age, they will get used to it and grow up with a taste for those foods.

    The meals your school serves all seem to be meat-based. Do they offer any vegetarian options? In addition to serving more fruits and veggies (not sweetened, canned fruits either), schools should offer vegetarian entrees like tofu, veggie wraps and hummus. Kids may freak out about it at first, but all of these foods are quite tasty if prepared right, and much more healthful than hot dogs.

  18. "The meals your school serves all seem to be meat-based."

    To paraphrase Morpheus in The Matrix: "You think that's meat you're eating? Hmm…"

  19. Man, I'm SO sorry this is what's offered to kids at your school… here in the Montreal school my kid goes to, the lunch options are delicious, nutritious, and kid-friendly – it's a total no-junk zone. I send my kindergartener with lunch most days (and they don't allow much of anything beyond a peanut-free granola bar as a "sweet snack") but I send him with his pre-paid lunch card once in a while. It costs $3.75 for the lunch, which usually consists of a sandwich or a pasta option, I think pizza some days… the fruit is fresh, as are the veggies, and you have the option of milk or juice. No soda machines on the premises. I think the cookies they offer are along the lines of "digestive cookies." Snacks from home can only be fruit, veg or yogurt. Nothing else. It's a good rule, methinks.

    I still prefer feeding him from our fridge, but when in a pinch, I'm not worried about what he'll "choose" for lunch. It's all good.

    I'm excited about Jamie Oliver's project – it's effect could do amazing things for the United States.

  20. I am pretty sure I wouldn't be eating those lunches. Our school lunches are pretty good for the most part. The only hot dogs we get are corn dogs (regular or mini). Are rolls, bread sticks and cinnamon sticks are all homeade. Our peach berry crisp is homeade too and it is great!!. We have recently added Chili to our menu it has good flavor and is not really spicey but I am amazed at the kids who won't even touch it. "I don't want that" sometimes they don't even know what they are turning down. I don't like the amount of carb loaded meals that we have. Good luck I will check back often and maybe they will find you a different food service director!

  21. Unfortunately, the Clark County School District (covering Las Vegas & Henderson, Nevada) has a "central" kitchen in which breakfasts and lunches are prepared, dropped into disposable containers, and shipped to the schools in "heating" cabinets. By the time the children get the food, it has literally been sitting in these little containers for 4-6 hours! It is soggy and disgusting and if there was any nutritional value in the first place (which is highly suspect), it has long since seeped away! I count my blessings that I am able to prepare lunch for my kids everyday – my 12 year old will not under any circumstances eat school lunch, but my 7 year old twins are often tempted by the allure of "fun-foods" like pizza, hotdogs, etc., but do not get to eat them because I pack lunch. What worries me is the 50-60% of kids in this valley who are on free or reduced lunch programs and this is all they get for breakfast and lunch – it's a sad, sad shame. You can't learn if your brain is starving for nutrition!

  22. I have gone to many schools, and NONE have had anything as bad as this! I feel bad, I go to a Waldorf School now, so we only serve all natural organic foods made from scratch each day. And were not allowed soda-regular or diet- as it is "toxic to the body", which is true, but I still sneak a diet cherry coke in everyday.

  23. I am a teacher and my students eat the same food every day. I find it very disgusting. I never eat school lunches, I find you very brave for taking this on. Students DO need healthier alternatives to this so called lunch. We also have about 20 minutes to eat, including teachers, with no recess. I agree that this is a very unhealthy lunch.

  24. First, I'd like to say I'm impressed with your tenacity! I'd have given up on the lasagna day! YUCK!

    As to "what kids will and won't eat" it is a pet peeve of mine! The assumption that children don't have or can't teach their palate to enjoy a variety of foods and tastes is just wrong. My 7 year old will eat just about anything with the exception of asparagus stems (he'll eat the tips). But, that is due to what he has always been fed. Always. From the time he started eating pureed food, I gave what we were eating as a family, only mushed up. If it was spicy, he ate it. If it was garlicky, he ate it.

    Kids are remarkably resilliant and quick to try new things so long as they are presented as something AWESOME and not gross. Case in point: Last year I started a 1 month garden project for my son's first grade class. We planted a "marinara" garden along with some quick sprouting greens. Each week we weeded, watered and tended our garden. At the end of the month I prepared a garden feast and the kids ate like they had never seen food! I made a fresh tomato sauce with torn basil and tomatoes from our garden. (To be fair, I cheated on the tomato plants and bought them with green tomatoes already on the plant). But they loved the fresh food. They also ate baby spinach salad.

    Kids can and will amaze us if we will just STOP telling them they can't.

    So, the tired and utterly false assumption that kids just won't eat (fill in the blank) makes me CRAZY.

  25. I'm crying. I can't believe that kids are having lunches like that!!! And NO PE?! Just once a week? And this is going on in across the country?! I am shocked.

    Look, my children go to a public school. They was awarded with the Blue Ribbon award last year. Now I can see why. The teachers are great, don't get me wrong at all. BUT!!!! They have PE, their lunches are good. I feel guilty when I pack my child's lunch!!! She likes having a sandwich every now and then. And she is allergic to fish. I have been there and seen and ate the lunch. It was good. Very good.
    This is an out of date menu, but look:

    That's the Oct menu for breakfast and lunch. This school has a HIGH poverty rating. Many of these children get free lunches and they only eat at the school. With the school offering breakfast, they have two meals a day instead of just one.

    Something has to be done. If this school can do it, others can. I don't know the secret but here is proof it can be done and have such high grades that they get a high honor as the Blue Ribbon.

  26. This situation is so very sad. Last year my husband was laid off. Our 7 year old twins were able to get "free Lunch".
    We have always made health food choices at home. My daughter was 51 lbs before school lunches when the school year ended she was 62 lbs. She went from a size 6 to a size 9-10. NEVER WILL I ALLOW THIS KIND OF DAMAGE TO MY CHILDERN AGAIN.

    I hate the fact that little kids have to eat with in 15 min. This is the time the lunch bell ring to the time the next group of kids come in.

  27. At our high school we have pizza soaked with greece, tater tots with a lot of greece and fried chicken sometimes hard enough to crack a tooth (I have had that happen.) We only have 30 min to eat but by the time we get out the line it is more like 3-5 min. I eat the school lunch because it is well right there, but we the students should not be scared to eat our lunch. I think the schools need to rethink what they choose and choose healthier meals and allow the students to voice their opinions on what they should reconsider. We can bring any thing including tons of candy and soda and they don't seem to care one bit. Thank you for being our voices and telling every one what it is like to eat a school lunch.

  28. I teach at a middle school and stopped eating the school lunch last year. I lost nine pounds just by not eating all the starchy food.

    Great site. Keep up the good work!

  29. Thank you for doing this – it takes a LOT of courage!! I have eaten lunch with both children only a handful of time and have really been turned off. I do give my children the option of having a school lunch or packing their lunch….they pack mostly. Now, with regards to the weight issues brought up, both of my children are actually underweight (9yo weighs 56lbs, 6yo weighs 40lbs) due to either medication or prematurity. I'm not concerned about their weight. However, the choices offered need to be a little more diverse and a little more FOOD and less FILLER!!! I know the person in charge for our county and she and I have talked (we got to know each other after my son had a severe atypical allergic reaction in kindergarten and I needed the ingredients in the meal). She said that she is trying to provide healthier choices, but the budget can only stretch so far and there are numerous schools that she is responsible for.

    I don't understand why the government feels that it is a requirement to continually cut funding to education as a whole….crappy foods, no extra activities, etc….don't they get it??? This is only feeding the next generation into becoming overweight slackers with no notion of healthy eating or regular exercise!!!

  30. I have to say that since I've been reading this blog,I've been both fascinated and repulsed! I'm in my mid 40's and from a small town in Texas. When I was in school, everything was home cooked by our aunts, grandmas or other ladies in the community who didn't work full time. We were spoiled! I had lunch with my kids last week for public school week. It was disgusting! Everything was the same color and bland-ugh! No wonder they come home starving every day! I vow to make lunches for them more often!

  31. I was looking through a lot of the pictures of the lunches that were posted and ALL of them looked better than what I got in school here in Texas. I would have loved a lunch like that instead of the crapola they gave me.

  32. Wow, after reading through your blog and seeing your pictures the lunches served at my school don't look as bad as I once thought!!! Atleast they got rid of the cottage cheese and fruit plate they served last year. I hated seeing kids order it, trash it and go hungry once they saw it!

  33. I'm really surprised by how gross the food looks. I remember high school lunches and I liked them most of the time. Though, there weren't many vegetables and the salads were drenched in dressing. It was still tasty. Especially the pasta and pierogies. Now, when I hear younger ones in elementary school telling me about their lunches, they sound even better than what I had, and more nutritious. I guess it's different all around the country and all the schools should definitely have more nutritious food.

  34. We've never fed our daughter 'kid' food (aka chiken nuggets, hot dogs, mac n cheese, etc..) and now she's six and likes things like spicy enchiladas, feta cheese, avacados, tomatoes, fresh herbs and a bunch of other things. Plus she'll try what ever we give her with out any fuss.

    I find this blog so interesting and timely. Just last week my daughter was asking to eat in the cafeteria like a lot of her friends but we had to tell her no. We've always packed luunches for her. I've always been apalled at the amount of times kids are served hotdogs, chicken nuggets, and pizza in a month!

    It's not hard to make a healthy lunch, throw in a sandwhich, string cheese, apple, carmel or ranch flavored rice cakes and a small box of 100% juice, no sugar added.

  35. Hey, they can't fire you for making a point. At the school I go to, I actually like our food here. It's REALLY good; we have DIFFERENT
    food each day, we LIKE it, the only time you wouldn't eat the food is if you DIDN'T like it (and even then you would give it to someone who DID like it), and each month, one grade (we have 2 classes per grade, so both classes) would pick out their favorite lunches (we had a voting.) No offense to your school, but because of the lunches, I am soooooooooo glad I don't go there!!!

  36. Dear Mrs. Q,
    First off I want to praise you for taking on the task of displaying the ugly truths of school lunches, both nutritionally and visually. Many of the items you have posted are grotesque and appear very unappetizing, but they are very reminiscent of what is served at my school.
    I myself am a junior in the state of Georgia, and I eat school lunch everyday. I don't do so out of economic issues, but due to the fact that I am on a constrained schedule and simply do not have time to prepare a lunch for myself. When it comes down to either spending 15 minutes preparing a bagged lunch or 15 minutes study for physics I would rather opt for the latter. In truth though I greatly dislike the food that I receive at my school. Everyday I get the same thing: a smuckers prepackaged peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a cheese stick that changes in texture from day to day, a box of raisins that contains what appears to be dried grapes from the prehistoric age, and an apple that has peculiar little gray dots on it and taste very chemical like. Most day I usually just eat the PB&J and the cheese stick, sometimes even the raisins. Compared to the other lunch choices what I get seems to be the healthiest, but also one of the most processed. Some of the horrors I have seen from the other entrees keep me scurrying back to my PB&J each and every day. I have seen hot dogs as pale as my skin, fried chunks of grease mixed in with the chicken nuggets and other fried foods, Meat sauce for spaghetti with rubbery pieces of gray meat mixed in, Chicken fried rice so greasy that it sticks to the tray and holds its shape, and countless other things. Along with this such foods as pizza and fries are served everyday. The majority of our fruits and vegetables come from large industrial cans, but every once and a while there is fresh fruit and vegetables (I make it a point to grab a little plastic container of either cherry tomatoes or kiwi if it is placed out, but this is an extremely rare occurrence). As I have stated early, the apples and various other fresh fruits they do place out are so overloaded with chemicals that very few of the students eat it when it is provided due to the strong chemical taste that is prevalent.
    When students are asked of their opinion of the food, many find it very unsatisfactory and would overjoyed if improvements were made. I greatly hope that your undertaking of this task will change school lunches as they are today. I wish you the best of luck.

  37. These lunches look amazing, compared to what we ate in my school. You were lucky if there was fruit. Or vegetables. If you got orange juice (which, of course, cost extra), that counted as your fruit. To get all of your food groups in, you had to pay extra for more side dishes. And nothing came prepackaged. So, to me, these look expensive! (haha, that's a really sad fact)

  38. Wow. i read pretty much this whole blog yesterday. and since i'm in middle school, i understand this whole school lunch situation…now. i used to just think "its school lunch. thats just how it is" but now i'm looking at this big picture and i just want to say that i would never have thought about it like that. i'm actually really surprised. i just hope that someday everyone will start thinking like you!

  39. I'm financially stuck in a hard place and let my daughter get free lunch. However I am very certain to feed her nutritious meals for breakfast and dinner because there hasn't been once that I wasn't made upset by the low nutritional content of her "balanced" lunch. And if it wasn't the content of her lunch, so very similar to yours (I ask every day now out of morbid curiosity), that upset me it was the fact that she was wrongly denied her lunch (and given two pieces of white bread and a slice of American cheese instead – NOTHING ELSE, not even milk!) or when she didn't actually eat anything because, once again, the line was too long or the cafeteria too full and she never found a place to sit. She's tried eating standing up when she's short on time for lunch but the lunch ladies yell at her to sit down! If I could, I would pack a lunch. I'm totally disgusted by the American people letting the future of our Social Security down this way…

  40. That lunch looks good to me, compared to what i had! im a student in arkansas and our mexican rice (why are we seving that? is TERRIBLE its so sticky that you can juggle it and play catch with it! Only two out of 300 like it!

  41. When I was lobbying my town to improve our school lunch menu, the food service director (Chartwells) told me they serve chicken nuggets every day, "because that's what kids want to eat." Ugh. I agree with you Mrs. Q that school-age children should NOT be in the position of dictating the lunch menu. While food service companies may make money by offering hot dogs, chicken nuggets and French fries every day, they need to look beyond their bottom line to the waistlines of our kids. BTW, there is a lot of good research out there proving that kids, when given the choice between two or three nutritious foods, actually choose the nutritious foods .. and they enjoy them … and bottom lines are still satisfied.

  42. I just found your blog, and have been very intrigued by it. I am currently getting a Masters in Family Life Education, and I value the educational and nutritional aspect of making sure growing children have what they need to be most successful in life. I recently read the post you made from Feb 17th, School-lunch wish list, and wanted to comment on #10, "Teach students where their food comes from by taking a trip to a farm"….this came at an interesting time for me to read this, because I recently watched "Food, Inc.". If you have not watched it yet, I strongly recommend it. It will give you great insight as to why school meals are probably so poor, because the quality of the foods being sold to schools are poor. Basically what it boils down to is that there is no such thing as a "real farm", anymore, they are all just massed produced animals and plants that are owned by the government.
    I think that if America were to embrace more of an organic option to the culture of our food, children would have access to more nutritional meals inside public schools.

  43. Mrs. Q and readers,

    I have just found this blog tonight and was instantly intrigued. I have now saved it to my favorites and will be returning often.

    My children (elementary aged) and I live in Missouri and our school district has been nice enough to provide lunch menus and nutritional information for each month on the school website. (we also get THREE (3) recesses in elementary school!) I would love to share our nutrition and daily lunch info on this blog so I have included a link to our school district website. I do not know if the lunches come pre-packaged but, I do know they are served on plates as if they are made in the kitchen in enormous pots/pans. Please feel free to check out the link. I would like to compare the menus of schools around the country and think the information would be interesting.

  44. I too am an elementary school teacher (Texas). I eat the cafeteria food quite often. Too many times the vegetables are over cooked, and there is little or no salt. Being the PE teacher I tend to stay away from the "heavy starchy meals". I usually skip the breads and just do the meats, vegies and fruit.

  45. "Obviously we want kids to eat, but should not cater to what a 7 year old would theoretically prefer to eat."

    I couldn't agree more with that comment!

    I have often wondered what the excuse is for serving bad food. At some point along the chain the basic ingredients used could have gone either way.

    It could be instructional to see the basic ingredients of that frankly vile looking hot dog laid out as separate components. That might get someone's attention.

  46. I came across your log on Yahoo News. And though I havent read it all, I have scanned it some ( I got to day 42 and wanted to DIE )
    Its been a year since I graduated from Cocalico High school, and I thought OUR food sucked! Compared to the crap theyve been feeding you guys our food is freakin gourmet! I cant believe that they consider that food. My heart goes out to you and everyone at that school. I wish you serious and honest luck at getting the menu altered (hell hopefully completely CHANGED).
    ♥ Brandy

  47. You can see our menu here.

    I mean, we have hot dogs and taco salad and lasagna and pizza… all that "crap" but ours tastes good, or some of it at least okay. and it doesnt come in individual containers like that, it actually looks and smells like food.

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