Day 21: Popcorn chicken

Today’s menu: popcorn chicken, tater tots, pear, milk, slice of bread, butter

I almost forgot to photograph my lunch! The chicken was bland. I smeared the butter on the bread: I’m quite the expert on how to do it without a knife. The pear was tasty. But I was hungry by 3 pm today.

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25 thoughts on “Day 21: Popcorn chicken

  1. I certainly can't argue the point you are trying to make regarding the nutritive value of the student lunches–or lack thereof. However, I don't think it's fair to imply that there is not enough food, which is what I assume you are implying when you say "But I was hungry by 3 pm today," since the meals are made for children, not adults. In fact, if they were large enough to keep you satiated, that would be another complaint against them: they would be including far too much food for the children. I don't recall if you've ever mentioned what age the kids are, but unless it is high school, kids should not be eating as much as adults. And if you want to avoid hunger, and potential weight gain from the snacks you have mentioned you have after school because of your hunger after these meals, I would recommend you supplementing or pre-planning healthier after school snacks. Some nutritionists recommend smaller, more frequent meals anyway.

  2. Hey! There's a piece of fresh fruit in that picture! What's that doing there?

    (I love this blog, you are really walking the path of righteousness, by bringing this issue to light. A picture speaks a thousand words etc.)

  3. Was anything other than the milk pre-packaged today? The massive amounts of pre-packaging seem to be a recurring theme in the other lunches that have been posted. Although I graduated from high school in '03, I'm pretty sure the school that I attended still does not prepackage its food with the exception of icees and things. I can't remember if this has already been addressed, but doesn't all that pre-packaging up the price on the food?

    Also of note, I was entertained by how scrawny the popcorn chicken was. They look more like tater tots or fried okra. I totally love the blog!

  4. Queenscook – You're probably right that for a small kid the portion size is right. I guess I'm just reporting my experience on this project.

  5. Not to prejudge but the chicken and potatoes I assume are both fried. My guess is it's fried in soy oil. The chicken is probably processed and frozen. All in all not so healthy. Although Milk is good, was it cold? and a pear is nice but i find kids dont really eat the pears like that. If they were cut and peeled and easy to eat then maybe.

  6. The portions might be right for a kid but since everything is either a starch or coated in a starch it's natural that you (or anyone, kids included) would be ravenous an hour or so later.

  7. Ironically, I'm betting this is one of the kids' favorite meals. Chicken nuggets and tater tots? Win!

  8. Were both the chicken and the tots fried? That's a lot of grease. I'm surprised you didn't get sick.

  9. I don't think the portions are right for kids, at least not all kids. School lunches at the elementary level are meant to feed kids ages 4-11 or 12, depending on the school. Kids calorie needs vary widely, depending on age, gender, and activity level – a document at has a table that lists average calorie needs for kids ages 4-13 ranging from 1200-2600 calories a day.
    An active child in the upper elementary grades might actually need MORE calories than an average adult. (When the boys I babysit, athletic kids ages 9 & 11, go through a growth spurt, they eat probably twice as much as I do!) If an adult is still hungry, chances are plenty of the kids are too.

    Of course, that meal seems to be almost entirely carbs, so I'm sure that's a factor too. Popcorn chicken is usually more breading than meat in my experience.

    the document I mentioned is here if you want to check it out. It has a ton of nutrition guidelines:

  10. Do you know what menu planning method your school uses? Food based or nutrient analysis?

    How much do they charge for breakfast and lunch?

    Monica, it is funny you mentioned the dietary guidelines. School meals are actually directly based off of those guidelines. Of course, that does not mean perfection or account for foods being heavily processed. I just thought I would let you know.

    Despite how this food may look or taste it is quite likely that it meets nutritional guidelines. School food is typically different from food you find at the grocery store. It often has somewhat improved nutrition that would go un-noticed to the naked eye. For example, those items are probably baked (not fried) and the chicken could even be breaded in whole wheat flour. (However, Monica might also be right – it could more breading than anything). Unfortunately, quality quite often takes the back seat to price. If operations (including labor and supplies) cost more than revenue the program goes in the red- which would compromise the quality and nutrition even further. Schools need to take every opportunity available to improve school meals (they know this)…I just wish those who criticized (who typically have zero school foodservice experience) truly understood the challenges schools face and joined the team instead of breaking them down.

    Regardless, I still find your blog to be very interesting and respect your efforts!

  11. Interesting comments on portion size. I remember that when I was a kid (including when I was pretty young) I was capable of demolishing absolutely anything that you put in front of me, and I still eat more than most people. I guess the point here is that I generally ate very healthy food, with loads of fruit and veg, and minimal fat or sugar. So I've never been overweight, because the foods I ate were nutritious and filling. So I guess I'm feeling glad that the portion sizes aren't any bigger, because they look so unhealthy to me – but then there's the catch-22 of the kids who don't get to go home to a good meal. As much as I think it's fantastic that kids get a cheap or free school lunch, I still think there's a lot more work to be done.

  12. I wonder if your school is on this program

    The schools here in Toledo are.

    Sure miss the fries (they were strange, looked they were made out of mashed potatos then molded into a crinkle-cut type french fry… Yum!), Pizza, Served in a plain white box with vents and the cheese is what I really remember, It was like white gerbil food and it never melted… LOL. Grilled cheese, Fish sandwich, and the cheese bugrers. All served in clear plastic oven bag's. :)::: 1980's 🙂

  13. I work in an elementary school cafeteria as a lunchroom aide. Those of us who work there sometimes scratch our heads at the combination of foods they have on the menu. Alot of carbs for some of them.
    That packaging is freaky. How and where does it get cooked? I can just picture the kids at my school stabbing through the packaging with their forks and me cleaning up all the bits of clear plastic from tables and the floor!
    Our schools either cook the food right on sight or it gets shipped over precooked from the high school and it's put in the warming trays. They get a hot lunch for $1.85 which includes milk and along the counter they have a selection of fresh fruit, bag of carrots and/or fruit container. A bagel lunch with yogurt, carrots and raisins or a salad with the same is an alternate lunch.

  14. …And I forgot to mention – in our schools if a teacher is buying a lunch, they get a larger portion of the same hot lunch (and pay more than the $1.85).

  15. The meal might have been analized to determine the nutritional content if the school is using the Nutrient Standard Menu Planning Option. Therefore the required nutritional content should have been met. I'm sure the chicken had a Child Nutrition Label so the portion served would provide a mix of meat/meat alternate and grains/breads contribution if the district/school is using the a Food Based Menu Planning Option. The nutrition facts label on the chicken and other foods would give the CHO content of each item. All meals served under the National School Lunch program have guidelines for minimum portions or minimum nutritional content. Those guides can be found at the FNS/USDA web site.

  16. Which is the chicken!? Just kidding.

    BTW: I wish I had thought of this. Your are a genius. I've never been down into our lunch room or seen the food. However, I just switched to teaching Environmental Science and we started a food unit. It's been crazy and really engaging for the kids. They don't know what is in food, what we need from it, where it comes from… This went from a short unit, to a 3 month long project and we are trying to grow a roof top garden this spring.

    I'm so glad I found your blog and will keep reading! Thanks for your effort and commitment to our children.

  17. I have full faith that this school meets the minimum nutritional guidelines. That seems to be brought up a lot, but to me that's obviously the point of the token pear (I guess they ran out of frozen fruit cups and icees today). I see a pattern of having one protien of some sort, two carbs, and one fruit or vegetable in every meal.

    I just don't think this necessarily means that the food will be appetizing or of high quality. They can still have mystery meat with a side of pretzel sticks and cherry icees with no actual cherries in them and still meet the minimum guidelines.

    I took "I was hungry by 3 pm" as not trying to make some sort of statement about inadequete portion size, but rather just describing her experience. Some of these meals seem to last longer than others.

    That looks like enough food for a 4 year old, but I don't know about a 12 year old. I remember by my pre-teens I could demolish half a large pizza, and I wasn't a fat kid. It was all going towards that early puberty growth spurt. You know, the one where the girls end up taller than the boys for a while? Anyway, I don't remember my portion sizes at elementary school getting any larger (I went to the same school the whole time and ate the school lunches about half the time), but maybe I just didn't notice. I don't remember going hungry, but I did have my after-school snack as soon as I got home every day.

    We had our food scooped out of warming trays onto actual plates, so it's possible the lunch ladies gave the 6th graders bigger scoops than the kindergarteners. When everything's pre-packaged, you can't do that.

  18. I'm pretty sure queenscook isn't a teacher. In my experience kids gobble up their lunches but, are still hungry for an afternoon snack and are also hungry for a morning snack after the sugary-starchy school breakfast. I'm grateful that schools (our government) serves food to kids that might otherwise go hungry. But, as a teacher and mother I'm worried about the impact to their health, attention spans, and some "disabilities" that could be contributed to and/or controlled by diet. Your blog is fantastic and adding to the service you are already doing for our youth. Keep up the good work, I hope you get more attention!

  19. Well, Anonymous at 4:55PM, you're wrong that I'm not a teacher. I also read about nutrition, and have been interested in bento boxes. In Japan, they have guidelines for bentos, based on the age of the eater, from children to adults. The point I was trying to make was that if the lunch is scaled for a child, then a full-grown adult shouldn't expect it to fill her up.

    I don't deny that kids may still be hungry after lunch. In some cases that may be because the lunches are truly inadequate, and in other cases it may be because kids (and adults) today have gotten used to eating more than in the past. It's the supersizing of America, and it affects us all. When I was a child, a bottle of Coke was 6 oz.; now it's at least 20 oz. When these kids get a normal-sized meal, especially if they are in homes where they eat tons of cheap junk food and fast food, it is quite possible that they are not used to eating an appropriate amount for their age. In my school (older kids), many snack all day, usually on chips, candy, sugared sodas, juices, and Snapple. After school, they make their way to fast-food places. They're not all overweight, of course, as fast metabolism often saves them, but some are . . . in fact, some can't comfortably fit in the classroom desks. And even the ones that aren't overweight are not eating totally healthfully.

  20. Let's try to play nice y'all! I don't want to have to moderate comments more than I already am. Thanks!

  21. I truly don't see what is even possibly offensive about what I said. Aside from identifying myself as a teacher, which Anonymous assumed I wasn't, every other thing I said is purely about food, students, and nutrition.

  22. to SDschoolDietitian: what do 'food based' and 'nutrient based' meal planning mean? I'd be curious to know how schools come up with these menus, and I'm sure some more background info would add to the discussion here. I think you're absolutely right that the schools themselves are not usually the ones to blame. It's the laws that require school cafeterias to operate in the black while giving them miserably paltry funding. It's the system that's set up so that most of the commodities (the pre-processed food ingredients) that the government funnels to school food programs are low quality foods. It's the laws that set requirements that, at least from what I understand (and please correct me if I'm wrong!) focus on the numbers of nutrients far more than their sources. At the top of that document I linked it talks about how the recommended eating habits to get the nutrients listed in the rest of the document differ from common American eating habits: they recommend "More dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat milk and milk products." and "Less refined grains, total fats (especially cholesterol, and saturated and trans fats), added sugars, and calories." I see some evidence of this in the lunches – particularly the use of whole wheat breads/buns – but there's definitely room for improvement. But if we're going to effect change, we need to complain to our senators, not our principals.

    Also, another factor for consideration: although I didn't buy lunch as a kid, I do know the menus we brought home always had a disclaimer on them that said that the meals met nutrient guidelines, but did so over the course of the week – so on a day-to-day basis some meals might go over some requirements and fall short of others. It also meant that kids who bought lunch only when there was something they liked and packed lunch other days wouldn't be getting the balanced nutrition – and there were plenty of kids who only bought lunch on days they served pizza or burgers.

  23. For a second there I thought they had given you more tater tots until I realized that was "chicken"

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