Day 40: mac and cheese

Today’s menu: mac and cheese, mixed veggies, breadstick, fruit cup, milk

 I can’t tell how the mac and cheese looks in the photo (I think it looks ok, but my husband doesn’t agree). What I can tell you was that it was very cheesy. It’s probably something the kids really enjoyed. You know, it wasn’t that bad and I’m not trying to be nice. All I’m doing is comparing this meal to the other school lunches that I’ve eaten and I can say that this ranks a little higher than most. I was able to eat everything but the fruit cup.

Looking over the school lunch menus, it’s amazing how nice the meals sound when you read their names. The images conjured up by “chilled peaches” or “turkey bagel dog” or “pepperoni pizza” are very different than what I’m eating. Talk about “doublespeak.” How are parents to know?

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32 thoughts on “Day 40: mac and cheese

  1. I can still remember one order of Mac N' Cheese I got in Junior High. It was literally a soup, noodles floating in cheese. And the fruits cups always tasted like no other fruit I ever had.

  2. Hi, I posted your blog on my FB account and the memories just keep coming back. Thank you for your commitment to this interesting project. Great idea!

  3. It appears as though the food is being heated up in those containers. What do you know about the plastics they contain? I believe we will only see a growing pool of human research as time goes on that indicates the health and environmental risks of heating food in plastics (e.g. BPA).

  4. I think BPAs are the last thing on their minds considering what they pass off as food and nutrition.

    If we ever get to a point in my lifetime where what the packaging of our school food is the pressing matter versus what is IN said food, then, well, I imagine unicorns exist and money really does grow from a tree.


  5. Thanks for your efforts on this blog. I don't have children, but I'm concerned about what these children are eating.

    After reading for a while, I'm concerned by how many carbs are in these meals & the scant amounts of protein. As a pre-diabetic from a family of diabetics, I made the decision 2 years ago to begin living a very low carb lifestyle. Of course, not everyone needs to eat quite as low carb as I do, but when I see a high-carb/low protein meal such as this one, I just cringe to think of all the carbs!! Children are served little protein at lunch & then we wonder why diabetes is an epidemic in this country???

    Keep up the good work on this blog! Your efforts are appreciated & will one day pay off for the children that you care about.

  6. The Mac and Cheese in our school system is Land O Lakes and it comes in big plastic bags that are put into big pans and heated and served from there. Much more appetizing and smells delicious.

    In response to Anonymous above me at 10:12pm: I asked our food services manager about the amount of carbs in the meals and she said something about kids need more carbs than adults do?? I don't really know much about that but if anyone else does….

    I really love this site but I still get bugged about people complaining about the amount of time kids have to eat lunch. We get 25 minutes which if you were monitoring the lunchroom like I do, you'd realize it is plenty of time. If it takes a kid 45 minutes to an hour to eat their dinner at home should they get the same at school?

  7. Nancy, I think if the kids got as much physical activity as they should, then they would need more carbs. The childhood obesity epidemic puzzled me at first, since I thought kids had high metabolisms, until I figured out that when I was a kid I had recess every day and often played outside some more after school.

    As for today's lunch, that looks EXACTLY like a TV dinner, even more than the other lunches. I guess it's the black plastic tray with the sections. I'm thinking about Mrs. Q's post on modeling, and this has got to be teaching kids that food should always come pre-portioned in disposable plastic trays that you just reheat. Once they're responsible for feeding themselves, they'll live off Hungry Man. Well, I guess the more "health-concious" ones can get those Lean Cuisine or Healthy Choice or South Beach Diet brand ones.

    Sure it would be great if school cafeterias made everything froms scratch, but I don't really mind cafeterias using frozen veggies and frozen meat patties and canned sauces. It makes sense from a practical point of view (not a lot of perishable items), and is the way most chain restaurants do it as well. At least that stuff is behind the scenes and when they bring it out it might be able to pass for made-from-scratch, and it's served out of a big pan onto WASHABLE dishes of some sort.

    But this here? You don't just suspect the lunch ladies didn't actually make this mac and cheese themselves, you KNOW. It in no way resembles anything that was touched by human hands before the plastic wrapper was peeled off. It's kind of shameless. At least restaurants that don't actually make things from scratch try to hide it and make it look like they actually made this stuff.

  8. @ Amanda

    I entirely agree. I commented on another post with the tv dinner analogy as well. It's disturbing. Not only is it wasteful and depressing but instead of being taught to eat good wholesome food they are going to learn that there is nothing wrong with living off of tv dinners.

    I also dislike the sectioned trays that most schools have. In elementary and middle school I had them but in highshool everything was served with actual real plates and bowls. A little goes a long way to making school lunch more enjoyable.

    It's not just about the food, it's also about how children are being taught to view food and mealtimes and the impact this will have on their eating habits.

  9. About carbs: it's all about the KIND of carb. Everybody needs carbs.

    Fresh fruits and veggies are carbs, and they're the good kind of carbs, because they're packed with vitamins. These kids are getting tons of white, processed grains (macaroni AND white bread?!), which are way less nutritious.

  10. Zahirah: If you don't eat fat, you die. If you don't eat protein, you die. If you don't eat carbs — of ANY kind — you don't die. Your definition of "need" must be different from mine.

    (And grains are just poison, no matter how unprocessed. In fact, some processing — namely, soaking, sprouting and fermenting — makes them *less* poisonous. I still wouldn't feed them to anyone unless the only alternative was starvation.)

  11. Totally agree about the naming of the meals. My daughter's elementary school serves pizza EVERY OTHER MEAL!!! This means every other week, it's three times that week! The meal calendar doesn't say just pizza but if you look at what makes up the meal, it's pizza. (And were not talking about wheat crust here.) Here are some examples:
    Italian Cheese Sticks w/ Marinara Sauce
    Double Stuffed Cheese Pizza
    "The Max" Cheese Pizza Wedge
    Tony's Cheese Pizza
    Pizza Funables
    Wouldn't be so bad if the other meals were better, but it's hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and tacos. It makes me sick that she eats this way, but since things are tight right now I'm torn between what else to do about it. I want to help. At least our school still has recess so I don't want to complain too much.

  12. I think the lack of carbs and grains has already negatively affected frogfarms's brain.

  13. Anon: Would you care to prove that carbohydrate is necessary for human survival? Nobody's done it yet.

    PS: You may wish to acquaint yourself with gluconeogenesis before you embarrass yourself.

  14. I pack my son's lunch everyday because he says the school lunch is horrible and makes his stomach hurt. I feel sorry for children that have to eat this food. It is not cooked in the schools anymore. It looks like tv dinners which I won't eat myself.Thank you so much for what you are doing.

  15. I am so fed up with the fancy naming of menu items. We have a firm rule in my classroom that if you can't tell what it is based on the menu, don't order it. Even the teacher's specials sound wonderful on paper, but the actually thing is less than edible. I would say you should just call it what it is, but I doubt many people would order frozen reheated pizza like product.

  16. When I look at the pictures of food I notice they are prepackaged like a TV dinner. How much sodium do these prepackaged meals contain? I am surprised the cafeterias aren't cooking the food themselves. Is it due to budget cut backs? Just wondering. My children have been out of public schools for 6 years so I'm out of touch. I sure enjoy your posts. Laurie

  17. I am looking at the carb content (mac, corn and a roll?!?!) on that tray and wondering how the kids (and you) stayed awake in class after lunch!

    Also wondering what your cholesterol count is after all of this…

  18. I have to say compaired to our school lunches yours looks good, my daughter is overwieght and yes she gets free meals at school. She has seen a nutritionest and it is said that the school is to provide her with a healthy meal, guess what never happen. All the proper forms were filled out and sent in nothing, she is eating well at home but not losing anything. While maintaining her weight is ok, she really needs to lose it. She is 11 and weighs in at 137. WOW! I try to get her to remind the school about her needs as I do, but nothing. I would love to be able to pack her lunch everyday but the cost of just the dinners and weekends is alot, the goverment is so worried about gas prices maybe they should look at the healthy eating prices for the food! Thanx

  19. How can meals like that be cost effective for the school? Don't schools pay personnel to cook and serve lunches? What a waste of money.

  20. As a Cafeteria Manager I can relate to some degree but if you dont want to eat it bring food from home. It starts with the parents. I can feed the kids the most nuturios food but when they go home they eat a bag of chips while watching tv or playing video games. Ultimately it starts at home. The avarage kid eats 18% of there meals a year at school. That leave 88% of there meals being eaten outside of the school. How is it that its the schools fault? Granted the Goverment could Donate the schools healthier food. But ours hands tied whan it comes to what we can offer.

  21. When my mom cooked for a parochial school she cooked everything from scratch. She did make mac and cheese but she put ham in it and did make it from scratch. She made 'prune pudding' which the kids ate as long as they didn't know what the name of it was. She was a great cook and when she could no longer do it another lady took over and all she did was open up cans and heat the food up. What ever happened to "cooking". Sad state of affairs.

  22. Can I just say that your school lunches look delicious compared to the ones that my school feeds the kids? Seriously…even if I forgot my lunch and was starving, I would not put the food into my mouth. Every day I cringe watching my kids eat their lunch. And can I say that we do not get duty free lunch, even though it is supposed to be illegal in my state to not have it??

    Today the kids were served what is probably the best option…a chicken patty. Everything else there looks horrid. Then they were given a choice between "soup" or mashed potatoes and the other side dish choices were jello, mashmallow trail mix (mixed with fruit loops and raisins) or a pear. What do you think these kids take? The jello and trailmix is always an option…and then usually some sort of fruit. The main entrees are either a chicken patty, fish sandwich, hot dog, chicken wing, mac and cheese, horrible looking "pizza," rice with some sort of mystery meat,or nachos with cheese and beef.

    It is a Title 1 school, so almost every one of my kids eat there for breakfast and lunch. The families really don't have another option, but I feel like the school district should. I remember growing up and loving school lunches and I KNOW that the food was better than that.

    It just goes to show you that once again, schools are placed last on the budget for everything. If we can't educate them properly because we can't seem to get our budgets worked out, how can we expect to feed them? But don't worry David Beckham, we'll pay you billions of dollars to come play soccer in America, our kids can keep eating dog food because they're not important.

  23. I love how you say compared to the other food the school is offering this looks better and you don't think it looks that bad. I think it looks burnt and gross. I think you have been eating too much school lunches and maybe you should treat yourself to some unburnt homemade mac & cheese. haha.

    Anyways, I think this is a great project you are doing and for a great cause! My school lunches were horrible and disgusting! I am only 23 so I can vividly remember the pizza and 'spaghetti'.

  24. What is so utterly sad here, is that not only is this food full of preservatives, probably high fructose corn syrup (because they put it in EVERYTHING now), probably hydrogenated oils, and anything else cancer causing they can get government funding for…IT'S MICROWAVED!!!!! Not only is it microwaved in PLASTIC (don't get me started….but what little nutrition was in this meal, is now gone. Because that's what microwaving does…it kills nutrition. This just makes me SO sad for our country's children.

  25. HAHA I remember M&C soup as well and your right. I hated those fruit cups. Too much sugar.

  26. The government needs to be aware that high cholesterol is genetic and that many children from birth have issues ( most doctors don't test for it at a young age so most parents are unaware). School lunches are filled with fat and sugar and carbs!
    The ONLY way to insure that your child is getting a well balanced healthy meal is to pack it yourself!

  27. I am a food service director for a school district of 1500 students. I am concerned about this blog in that you are giving ALL school food service a bad rap and this is not the case in all school district around the country.
    By looking at pictures of the meals being served in your school it is clear there is a huge problem within your district. I have never seen mac & cheese served out of a foil boat and most meals I have looked at are not appealing at all.
    Here are a few things going on in my district that may give you some ideas of how to improve your districts food service.
    1. Offer a daily salad bar with fresh fruits
    and vegetables.
    2. Offer more than one option per day. At
    our district we offer 2 choices at the
    elementary, 5 at the middle school, and
    7 at the high school. The elementary
    have one main entre which usually
    consists of a casserole or something that
    requires some preperation. The second
    is usually a cold sandwich, wrap, or
    pita. At the middle school we offer a
    main entre, a hot sandwich, a salad
    option, and homemade pizza. The high
    school offers the same as the middle
    school plus a made to order sandwich
    station and an addition hot sandwich.
    3. Take fried food off the menu completely.
    4. We offer only turkey hot dogs in our
    5. To control the fat content, offer chicken,
    turkey, or ham 2 to 3 days a week.
    6. If a salad bar is added the fat & sodium
    content of your meals will be within
    government guidelines.
    7. Get rid of salt shakers in the department.

    The restrictions put on school food service by the government are very hard to reach. In order to regulate things such as sodium we need the help of manufactures to limit the amount of sodium added to canned products.

    I hope these tips help your district. I have worked in school food service for 11 years and hate to hear all the negative things being said about what we do. Also, please remember school food service is NOT the reason for childhood obesity in this county. Heathy eating habits and exersize begins at home.
    Thank you for listening to my comments.

  28. After reading a few I must clear up a few FACTS for you:
    USDA does not limit or count carbs for children. As I know we are a country of counting carbs and thinking carbs are bad…USDA REQUIRES schools to serve so many breads per week (up to 10). The groups required by USDA are protein, milk, grain, fruit, & vegetables. Food service is required to offer each of these components every day.
    School district are also not allowed to purchase anything that contains trans fats.
    Just a little FYI facts for all of you school food service bashers out there!!!!

  29. Nancy- I know at my son's school, lunch is TECHNICALLY 25 minutes, but that also includes recess time. So once the kids are lined up, wash hands, get their milk, food, etc. they've already used up at least 10 minutes. Then they want to get out to play so they gulp down their food- or in my son's case, leave half of it uneaten in his lunch box, just so they can get outside and play for 10 minutes.

    So the 25 minute lunch is just as big a myth as the descriptions of school lunch items bearing any resemblance to the items themselves.

  30. This meal looks pretty much like a Banquet frozen tv dinner that you can buy at Walmart for under a dollar. And the pizza that you have been served looks like a frozen pizza you can buy at the Dollar Tree for a dollar. Makes me wonder how much the children are having to pay for their lunch each day. I have no problems with eating frozen dinners but not as an everyday thing. They are not the most nutrious and they contain an aweful lot of salt. Even still I have seen frozen dinners that look more appitizing than some of the things you are being served and they are even healthier for you. If parents knew what their children are being served I am certain many of them would opt for sending lunch instead. You can buy a loaf of bread and lunch meat and feed the child all week and it would be healthier than some of these meals and the child would actually eat it I am sure.

  31. It was great "seeing" you on Good Morning America. I hope that your dedication to getting better food for American children will catch the attention of people who can help you make a difference.
    I am amazed that you can still eat that food everyday…some of it makes my stomach churn, and I'm just looking at it.
    Maybe Jamie Oliver will come to your school and help out.

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