Day 11: Pasta and meat sauce

Today’s menu: rotini, meat sauce, green beans, cherry-flavored icee, breadstick, butter, milk.

I enjoyed this meal. The pasta and meat sauce weren’t bad and I appreciated the variety of rotini (versus spaghetti). I guess the green beans had some kind of butter sauce. I didn’t taste a sauce but there was a little buttery residue on the bottom of the paper package.

The icee was very sweet. I sucked down a few sips and then stopped.
I talked to a couple students about the meal. They said they liked it. I asked if they ate everything and one didn’t eat the green beans. Both didn’t eat the breadsticks because they were “too busy talking” and ran out of time.

In other news I have definitely determined I’m lactose-intolerant this weekend when I ate some ice cream. So I’m no longer going to take a milk when I purchase lunch. I could try and take “lactaid” with me to work, but it’s a lot of fuss so I think it’s just best if I avoid all milk.

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31 thoughts on “Day 11: Pasta and meat sauce

  1. Wow. I am feeling SO good about the fact that my daughter doesn't like to eat school lunch and that I pack her lunch every day – even if I tuck in "treats" they are so much better than these…

  2. What's really striking is that just about every item on your blog looks like a microwaved meal. Thanks for bringing some light to school lunches. When I was a teacher I stuck with carrots, peanut butter, and crackers. Boring, but a lot safer than Salisbury "Steak".

  3. This is so real and yes, appears so microwaved. I bet if this was served in Congress they'd immediately fund extra dollard for food service. Thanks for bringing this real view to light!

  4. why is everything individually wrapped? That is an unconsciounable waste of plastic aka oil. My school lunches were not wrapped. Its a weird evolution and i'm just curious.

  5. ooh lactose intolerance, good luck with that. I have been LI for 8 years now and it's no picnic. Good luck. BTW, this is really driving home my point for my kids (2 and not yet born) to not eat school lunch and do something about it locally. Thank you for your courage.

  6. At our schools the lunches are made fresh everyday and there is a variety. One meal hot is different everyday but also offered are hamburgers, hotdogs, peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, chicken patties and nice salads daily. That said, some are good, some not so good. Also each child is required to take milk and fruit even if they say they won't eat it. State law requires balanced meal so they have to account for milk/fruit per meal. My daughter actually won't buy lunch now because she doesn't drink milk and hates that they make her take one that she has to throw out. Brought it up many times with school official when on the PTO and although they agree, there is nothing they can do.

    The state of NJ also regulates the sugar in foods. They took away cookies and replaced them with rice krispie treats and soft pretzels and ice cream. They took away sugar sodas (only in middle school and high school) and added sugared ice tea, lemonade and Hawaiian Punch in its place. Try to figure out that reasoning.

  7. love your project. (as a food anthropologist lost adrift without much to do in her field, i'm always coming up with food projects to keep myself from despairing…) the lunches look like airplane meals… after the plane hit some bad turbulence. as a person with some food intolerances of her own (not big on cheese and mayos and such), i remember the difficulty i had eating lunch in elementary and middle school. eventually i gave up and just had a soda for lunch every day in high school. not very healthy, but then again, i didn't have very many good food role models at the time.

    ran across your project after reading several articles refuting caitlin flanagan's horrendous article "cultivating failure" about how school gardens are destroying the nation. i guess at least one good thing has come out of her nonsense: i've found many more like-minded people worrying and writing about the state of food standards in schools. so my rss feed has increased, but not with anything published by "the atlantic."

  8. The amount of BPAs being leached into this food must be immense. The children are being exposed to such high amounts in these meals alone at a time when their endocrine systems are at an extremely sensitive time.

    This is criminal.

  9. Hi. I'm reading your blog every day and I wanna give a big hand to your challenge. I'm a junior student at university and living in Japan. I'm studying about American politics and cultures, so it is really good that I can study about school lunch in US.

    We also have school lunch system in Japan, but it's quite different from your school's. When I was an elementary school student, the dinner ladies made us fresh and hot meals at school kitchen everyday and there was a variety.

    Maybe you already knew but one Japanese dinner lady is writing about Japanese school lunch and it's good. It's written both English/Japanese so you can read it.

  10. Even the lactose intolerant can usually have one cup of milk a day. Ice cream is notoriously rough on the lactose intolerance; if you want it, eat just four ounces or prepare to pay! You can usually have all the yogurt you want though. This blog is wonderful, thank you so much, I have a child entering kindergarten in the fall and I think I'll be packing her lunch!

    1. Really late on this, but in case someone else comes across this… It’s not accurate from my experience at all.

      Perhaps it’s different for people who developer Lactose Intolerance later in life? I don’t know; I was born Lactose Intolerant.. I got sick from it even as a baby, so I had soy formula.

      Yogurt (and frozen yogurt) are far worse for me than ice cream and I can not drink even a quarter-cup of plain milk without getting quite ill. If I eat yogurt, I have to take the pills and I have to eat it slowly. Little tiny spoonfuls at a time.

      The cheese in school lunches is usually so little and so fake that it I could eat the pizza or tacos in high school without getting sick… But pizza from an actual pizza place is pretty bad.

      milk cooked into bread or chocolate is ok, but if there is a lot and it isn’t cooked thoroughly (like in instant Mac & Cheese for example) it will make me ill.

      Since the topic is school lunch, if you have a child with lactose intolerance and they get school lunch, send a doctors note in to the nurse and a letter to the school about it. The school usually will then provide an alternative drink (I got little foil sealed plastic cups of “juice” which were usually half frozen in elementary school, bottled flavored water in middle school, and cans of 100% juice in high school)

      I can eat pizza two days in a row, or two meals in one day if I take lactaid pills, but no more frequently than that. I can have yogurt maybe once every couple days with the pills… frozen yogurt I’ve never had without getting ill (once I figured this out as a kid, I just stopped trying to eat it, so it’s been a while)

  11. Does your school not offer any other drink choices? When I was in elementary school (in the 1980's), our choices were chocolate milk, plain milk, apple juice, or orange juice. The vast majority of kids got chocolate milk. Even as a kid I felt that chocolate milk was more of a dessert than something to drink with a meal, so I always got plain milk, which was probably the second most popular choice (but way behind chocolate milk), and maybe a couple of kids per class got juice.

    By the time I was in high school the cafeteria was selling soda (they might have sold it while I was in elementary school too, but didn't come with the normal meal so you had to pay extra for it and it cost a lot more than milk or juice), so that became the most popular choice by far. Then again, by high school the cafeteria also had deals with fast food chains to sell their food in the cafeteria. That seems to be more and more popular around here, with new schools being built with mall-style food courts, though it might also depend on how affluent your school district is. I used to think it was a bad thing to be selling Taco Bell and Pizza Hut in schools, but it looks like fast food chains have better quality food than this.

    I digress. I guess I'm just surprised that your only option would be milk. Even when I was little we all knew that some kids were allergic to milk so we had that juice option for them.

    Then again, my elementary school also served food scooped out of big metal trays like a proper cafeteria and not individually wrapped microwave TV dinner type things. Whatever happened to instant mashed potatoes served with an ice cream scoop, huh? I guess this way the school district can avoid paying anyone to wash dishes.

  12. I am enjoying this. It makes our school menu not seem so bad(Tacoma school District, Tacoma, WA). The breakfasts are terrible, the lunch entries are fatty and high in slat, but there is fresh lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, celery, fresh sliced and canned fruits, rasins, and whole bananas, apples and oranges.This is for elementary schools, not sure of the MS and HS menus.

  13. I have sent your blog to friends of mine around the country who are teachers and asked them to share with everyone as well. Hopefully the more people get involved, the more help you and the kids can get.

    -From NYC

  14. Although I agree with TracyMar that our school lunches include more fresh fruits/veggies, your pasta and meat sauce actually looks edible. Ours usually comes in a scoop (always a bad sign) and is all overcooked and caked together.

  15. Would be interesting to hear of any other health problems that come up whilst you eat your way to hell.

    I have never heard of a teacher with Attention Deficit Disorder before, but if you carry on eating this stuff, you may be the first!

    great blog btw I think it will go very very far……A+++


  16. Unbelievable!
    Just found you today thru a Tyler Florence tweet.
    The food in those photos is abysmal, not to mention ALL THAT PACKAGING! I'm glad I don't seem to be alone in my shear disbelief that in this day and age, when we are all duty bound to teach our children to be "green", that they can go to school and be faced with what amounts to more garbage and packaging to throw away than there was food on the tray!
    And I am being generous when I can that crap "food".

    Both my girls are in college now, and I always packed their lunches because we were vegetarians, but my heart breaks for those poor kids, and their parents (who can afford nothing else) who have no choice in this.
    Kudos to you for shining a light on the pathetic state of things in our school cafeterias.

  17. I found your blog from Tyler Florence's twitter and I've just finished reading every single one of your posts. I have to give you major props for doing this not just for shedding light on a critical issue affecting many, many American children (in BC where I live we don't have school lunch programs) but because of the health risks you are taking on yourself, even if it is only five meals a week.

    I'm currently reading Fast Food Nation and it's opened my eyes to the shocking and appalling truth behind the industrial food service complex in the US which apparently also supplies meat to the federal school lunch program. It really makes you feel helpless when you realize that three or four megacorps are producing 90% of the nutrition consumed by most lower-income Americans and that the health and welfare of their consumers are the last priority for these profit-making machines.

    God bless you for doing this. You're making a difference.

  18. This is a great project! I just found this through's Sustainable Food Blog. I'd be very interested to see what the nutritional information is on these meals that students are being served. Many times, it can be available through the school district website, if it is from a public school.

    Keep going! You are doing some great work!

  19. I must agree with bigbnlc and nika. I was going to ask the same thing myself: Why the overpackaging with plastic wrap? What happened to the good old divided trays? Again, thank you for your dedication to this issue and your blog. As a soon-to-be public health professional, this is very interesting (and fun to read).

  20. Several things have happened to the "good old trays." A very big advantage of the prepack items is food safety. Another advantage is that it guarantees that each child gets the same portion. Labor costs are a huge problem for schools and this makes the prewrapped items very competitive. Also, some schools may have dish machines as old as the building, not in good working order, and with no budget dollars to repair them.

    Some comments have suggested that the food looks microwaved, but that is extremely unlikely. Remember that the time needed to microwave food increases with volume. It takes much longer to microwave two potatoes than one. Now picture microwaving 240 portions.

    Finally, schools provide alternative beverages for students who are allergic to milk. Juice can cost twice as much as milk, so it is often too expensive just as a preference item.

  21. i agree w/ healthyschoolscampaign who suggested serving these meals to congressmen. seriously. the catering should go to this for a whole week while they are in session. then see what happens to the food supply chain.

  22. Those green beans look horrible. How are we supposed to get kids to eat more veggies if we cook them like that. Yuck.

  23. I live in Bremerton, WA and was recently in an elementary school cafeteria where they are requiring children who don't drink their milk to open the cartons and dump the milk in buckets (these are unopened cartons). Not only are these meals pretty yucky and unhealthy looking, but incredibly wasteful when you consider how much untouched milk and fruit gets thrown out. Too bad there isn't a way that the food banks could take this in before it gets tossed in the can.

  24. If you are having issues with dairy, try organic milk, ice cream, etc. It may not help, but for my husband, he is very sick with conventional dairy, and has no issues with organic dairy. Might be worth a try!

  25. Lactose intolerance.
    High among African American communities…

    If I were a detective, I'd say
    a) Black
    b) Under 35 (tech savvy)
    c) Female (above average concern for children's welfare.)
    d) Probably less than 5 years experience (wouldn't be so worried about losing a teaching position held longer)
    e) 28 or younger given the 5 year guess and graduation age from college.

    Maybe I could construct some other deductions.
    Hopefully, I'm way off on something and you can smile to yourself. Any school that would fire you for caring about kids diet doesn't deserve you anyway.

  26. First time I have heard of this so old post for you new for me. I have been lactose intolerant almost my whole life. Growing up even with my intolerance I still HAD to take and drink the milk all the way thru 8th grade. Reason being unless you had a note from your Dr you had 2 drink choices white or chocolate milk. If you had the note you got orange juice. We were poor so poor mostly my lunch was free and packing well never ever happened except for field trips. Being poor we had a stupid Dr who refused to give the note saying that if I drank milk long enough the intolerance would go away. The teachers checked your plate after lunch and had to approve before you could say you were done. Very few would let me get away with not drinking the milk. Most allowed me to only drink half but some I had to drink it all. I had many accidents at school growing up because of this so much I was made fun of. I had one teacher who first forced me to drink it all then later in class refused to let me go to the bathroom and when I couldn't hold it no more simply moved my desk to the back of the room and made me sit in my poo the rest of the day.

    Having said that I wonder what are the rules the kids have to follow do they have to drink it all…or at least some? If so I would say the only way to be true to the experiment is to also drink it.

  27. I found a once-daily pill for lactose intolerance by Digestive Advantage. It’s not as effective as taking a Lactaid with every serving of dairy, but is a heck of a lot better than taking nothing, or avoiding dairy altogether!

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