Why I’m Fed Up With Those Photos of “School Lunches Around the World” | Civil Eats

Why I’m Fed Up With Those Photos of “School Lunches Around the World”

school lunches around the world

In the past few weeks, I’ve been just inundated by people sending me this link showing “school lunches around the world” and how poorly America’s lunches fare by comparison. Like this:

First, most people understandably but mistakenly believe these photos depict actual lunches served in actual schools. Even some news outlets seem to have made this error. Instead, all of these lunches are mock-ups created by Sweetgreen, a “fast casual” restaurant chain which also offers wellness workshops to children in various schools in the Northeast.

Sweetgreen says it based is photos on “some typical school meals around the world,” but it doesn’t tell us how it obtained the information underlying the photos. Were the meals modeled on public school menus?  Private school menus? Are the meals depicted typical of what’s served in a given country, or did Sweetgreen cherry-pick the most appealing items?  And on what basis were the elements chosen for America’s school meal?

I don’t have answers to those questions but here are some things I do know. Let’s start with this mouth-watering “school meal” from Greece:



According to a 2013 New York Times piece—notably entitled “More Children in Greece Are Going Hungry”—Greek schools actually “do not offer subsidized cafeteria lunches. Students bring their own food or buy items from a canteen. The cost has become insurmountable for some families with little or no income.” So I’m not sure who’s getting the lunch above, replete with fresh pomegranate seeds and just-picked citrus. But I do know that while Greek school kids were reportedly going hungry in 2013, over 20 million economically distressed kids in this country were being fed nutritious, federally subsidized meals every single school day.

Kinda makes you proud to be an American, doesn’t it?

Then there’s France. I’ve been blogging about school food for five years and if I had a franc for every time someone’s told me about the superior school meals in that country, I’d have enough money to buy every TLT reader this lunch:



We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

French school meals are superior to ours–quelle suprise! According to this report, the amount spent on the food in French school meals can exceed two dollars—twice what American districts are left with after overhead. And I actually suspect that the money available to schools for food may be much higher, given this post by Karen Le Billon which indicates that parents are assessed a price on a sliding scale, with the wealthiest parents paying a whopping $7 per meal. More importantly, as Le Billon so well documented in French Kids Eat Everything, almost every aspect of French food culture, including widespread nutrition education and early “taste training,” supports better school meals, both their provision by schools and their acceptance by children.

We should learn what we can from France, of course, yet it hardly seems fair to compare its school food to our own when so many factors in this country which thwart better meals aren’t nearly as problematic there: chronic underfunding; the financial competition districts face from home-packed lunches (which are strongly discouraged in France), competitive food, junk food fundraising and open campuses; the $2 billion spent each year on the advertising of junk food to American children; and an American food culture which celebrates junk food instead of actively discouraging its consumption as France does (including by requiring warning messages on junk food ads).

And by the way, apparently not every meal served in French schools is worthy of a Michelin star. On the What’s For School Lunch? blog, where real people around the world submit their actual photos of school meals, I spotted this French school lunch featuring chicken nuggets:


And that leads to another point. How can any one meal accurately represent an entire nation’s school meal program? For example, let’s assume that some Ukrainian kids really are eating what Sweetgreen depicts:



That’s great. But, according to What’s For School Lunch?, other Ukrainian kids are getting this dismal meal of hot dog slices, white pasta, broth and bread:


So which is the “real” Ukrainian school meal?

Thank you for being a loyal reader.

We rely on you. Become a member today to read unlimited stories.

By the same token, look at some of the American school meals I compiled from the School Meals That Rock Facebook page.  They’re all a far cry from the pallid chicken nugget meal depicted by Sweetgreen.

Bettina Elias Siegel is a nationally recognized writer and commentator on issues relating to children and food. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Houston Chronicle, and other publications. She's the author of Kid Food: The Challenge of Feeding Children in a Highly Processed World and for 12 years covered the world of kid food and school nutrition in The Lunch Tray. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

  1. Denise
    In Romania they did not even offer school lunches and as far as I know, most of the eastern European block do not offer any school lunches. Everyone had to bring their own from home. I do believe that these so called picture perfect lunches are fake. However, it does not give us a good excuse to feed our kids poor in nutritional value food just because we offer it. It is actually getting pretty expansive to have a school lunch these days unless you qualify for a reduced lunch. It is between 4.00 and 5.00 a pop for various ages and schools daily.
  2. I always thought those photos were real.
    Also your right food differs from school district to district.
  3. Brigitte Johnson
    Is Sweetgreen staging/making up these lunch menus? Who knows and who cares. There is no excuse for children to eat 'pink-slime', industry 'over production', refuse and garbage the government can snatch up on the cheap!
  4. Dede
    Why are American's demanding the school feed the child a better lunch than they do? Let us start posting pics of what parents feed their kid for lunch. Certainly not the gourmet meal they are expecting the school to feed them. Nutritious and healthy and wholesome does not have to mean fancy. School lunches need work, but so do people's ridiculous expectations.
  5. Steve Mills
    The true point of focus is the miserable nutritional disaster of most school lunch programs. There are a handful of school districts who have greatly improved quality and freshness of their lunch programs, offering fresh fruit and vegetable. The results are astounding. Better behaved children and better test results. The majority of school lunches are over processed 'crap' food. Realize the point, and do some research.
  6. veela
    Yeah; I'm sure the average kid in war-torn Ukraine is getting gourmet meals like the kind that were depicted. And Greece is bankrupt; so I suppose they too have a ton of money to be dumped into the school lunch program. Meanwhile, my daughter gets fresh pasta (fresh!), a salad bar, fresh fruit, and actual fried chicken. I've eaten lunch at her school plenty of times and I was shocked at the wonderful quality of food. Some schools in the U.S. DO have terrible food; but blame THAT on the school district's spending.
    • Jennifer
      Just because your child's school serves healthy delicious food, doesn't mean that the vast majority of school districts do not. And, in many districts, if you pay extra, you can get a items added, or get anther meal (such as a salad). That does nothing for the (over 50 percent) of students in public schools now across the country who live in poverty and can't afford the more expensive or extra stuff. I have taught these kids - some of whom rely on the school for breakfast as well. Try teaching students who are hungry!
  7. veela
    And another thing: ANYONE should be able to see that this was a set-up; as the plate is the same in every photo.
  8. Ashly
    Yesterday my daughter brought home a paper from her school that was encouraging students to buy lunch "because school lunches are healthier than ever." There was a menu attached and almost all the meals were extremely unhealthy. ....French toast sticks, hot dogs, pizza...And I'm guessing all the ingredients are very cheap.
  9. Raymond
    If the photos were real, then why would all of the supposed lunches from the other countries be photographed on the same table?
  10. David
    First off- VERY informative and interesting article- I would venture to say eye opening.
    However I just can't believe the photo under:
    "I spotted this French school lunch featuring chicken nuggets: "- is real. I can't imagine a French school serving ketchup. American ketchup is the anti-Christ to French food.
  11. Ray
    Many countires give children two hour lunch breaks for children. This allows kids to go home for lunch with their parents who also get a long lunch break. In the states some kids get fifteen minutes for lunch at some schools. They are called waves. I, too, I'm tired of the misrepresentation of US lunches. Some schools provide good lunches, but don't. Some kids bring great lunches from home, some don't. Staged lunches as represented above, not a great idea to try to prove ones point which was to show US kids aren't getting good food compared to the rest of the world.
  12. Ugh
    Even without federally subsidized meals there shouldn't be kids starving in the U.S. What lazy mother can't make her kid a 10 cent sandwich and chop up some 20 cent carrot sticks?
  13. carrey
    sorry, but facts don't lie, I traveled for 6 months in Europe and Ukraine and I swear to god I almost could not find an overweight person anywhere save for one or two elderly, it was unbelievable that I was the fattest person always in any group, and I am only 20 lbs. over. So, I tend to believe that these people do indeed eat better quality of food than we do, they did not look starved, by the way....
  14. I was an educator in the public school system for thirty years and have seen a lot of varied menu programs based on what is considered "appropriate portions, suggested caloric intake, and vitamin-based".
    Mrs. Obama even has her take on what a typical school food service program should contain.
    The best and most successful lunch menus I ever saw and happily ate from were in the small rural schools where I taught. Regular home cooks came in to bake bread, make hearty soups, and a good dessert. Kids who had allergies brought their own meals and local farmers supplied a lot of the produce and dairy. Simple fare yet healthy fare for anyone who comes hungry.
  15. Candy B
    Well fucking done Mrs. Siegel. I didn't really believe those photos myself. I kind of just didn't buy it.
  16. Carmen I Ortiz
    In other words, lets pretend that most school children in the USA DO NOT get dismal school lunches because a few get fancy meals. Too bad there is no mention of which school serve the colorful lunches. I'm betting in not many public schools, just those in much higher income neighborhoods where the parents vote for higher property taxes to subsidize schools. What gets me is that many schools complain when parents sent their kids with meals from home. Of course, "we" need the money to waste on the bureaucracies "needed" to run schools.
  17. michelle
    I hjad never seen those other countries' food lunch plates before, so I had none of the outrage the author apparently does. Instead, I regularly visit my kids and eatlunch with them since their school encourages parent involvement, including "lunch buddies." I have seen some HORRID lunches - from nachos with a goopy sauce that defied gravity (and the veggie was the corn in the chips??) to a tiny pizza with slices of ham as then entire meal - the vegges are the tomatoes in the sauce. When I asked for my child to get green beans or another veggie, I was informed those would add another 75 cents to the meal. Only the base entree and a juice boxand a milk are part of the meal.
    • Jennifer
      Yes! This your comments reflect my observations as a public school teacher who was on "lunch duty" for 1st and 2nd grade for years.
  18. Tiara Young
    When I was in school the cafeteria was run by a squad of ladies who came in very early and prepared everything from scratch. We were given a veggie, a starch, the entree, dessert and milk. It was filling and healthy. Now budgets are cut and food is the thing that was left to the lowest bidding supplier for microwavable "healthy" crap that was paired with a sad salad and out of season fruit. This is what my kids are served, by a staff of two, one on the register, one running the microwave. Want better school food? Hire back the cafeteria ladies of yesteryear and supply them with real food to cook, everyone will be happier. Start garden clubs and get stores to donate to help fill the school pantry.
  19. Karen Brown
    My sister works in a school cafeteria in Arkansas. They have guidelines to follow. And then the kids won't eat the meals. I see it as children's tastes not being trained from babyhood. They complain about the food because it is fast food that they crave.
  20. kirk
    where is all the meat in those foreign countries. all i see are twigs and leafs
  21. Jennifer
    I work in a school kitchen and the truth is, kids get to decide what and how much food they take. They are required to take at least 3 items and at least 1 has to be a fruit or veggie. So, when they show a pitiful lunch tray, that was their own choice. Yes, they are limited to how much protein and bread they get, though.
  22. Charlie
    Perhaps you should travel some then trying to pick apart a photo and how you think it was fake. Ever wonder why Mc donalds servers better food in other places of the globe? Perhaps it is because we consume so they sell. Other places it is not so. When i was in Ukraine Mc donalds was shamed, and they actually had a lot healthier food then they serve here.

    So like i said perhaps you need to get out of your box and stop looking at pics. Start checking out reality,
  23. Kat
    I have two grandchildren in Germany and one in Japan- a niece and nephew both in Turkey- I can assure you their lunches look much better than the school lunches served in New York City! My children wouldn't eat the slop they served in schools- they wouldn't even touch Mc Donalds "food". My niece has a lamb chop served with yogurt mint dip, a serving of shepherds salad, green beans and freshly baked bread, choice of juice, and choice of desert for lunch today. And yes, this is in a public school setting. School lunch here sloppy joe and sweet potato slices!
  24. Tina
    I have worked in the public school system for fifteen years. The school lunches have never been really good, but in the past several years have become down right pathetic. Those "good" lunch pictures posted from around the USA in this article doesn't come close to what I have witnessed in our schools (...and a teach in a well funded school district.) The food is so bad on some days that the kids throw it away and eat bread. I just had lunch with my children last week. There wasn't enough food to fill up a 2nd grader much less 5th graders. I teach at the high school level. Many kids would rather skip lunch rather than eat what is served. Sad.
  25. American school food is terrible. I was just in High school not 5 years ago and still cringe every time i see or hear the word "ribs" (compressed "mystery meat" in the shape of ribs), "pizza" (crust was cardboard, the cheese had floating grease on top of it), "frito pie" (again, floating grease), and "sandwitch (air tight plastic package with stale bread)

    Those were our choices. Our sides were: chips, green beans, or french fries.

    I lost my galbladder at 19 and I 100% blame the school foods for that, as many of my then classmates are also loosing their galbladders.
  26. Joe
    Idk when I was eating in school (Brooklyn/NY) it seemed fine and thats back in 2000's before all this lately popular nutritious talk
  27. dreamer656
    Poor nutrition in school lunches could be solved by parents packing a lunch for their children.
  28. Barry Woodworth
    I've been teaching English in South Korea for a number of years, and I have taught at a number of different schools in different areas. I can honestly say that the food is 95% healthy, dessert is usually fruit or flavored yoghurt. There is always a soup, a vegetable, some kind of Kimchee (pickled cabbage or Daikon) and one or two "protein dishes plus rice. I get charged approximately $2.00 per meal. Ms. Siegel, if you want I can start taking pictures of actual lunches and send them to you.
  29. Sru
    Americans wouldn't be able to handle those international lunches due to their gluten and carbs paranoia
  30. Rose
    Interesting kirk. I'm a long time vegetarian raising two vegetarian children and the main thing I see when I look at those pictures is the meat. Even though some of them look good I'm completely turned off by the meat on the plate.
  31. Devin Ward
    Fed up or not...there is truth to their point. I don't need pictures or rebuttals to convince me. I've experienced it first hand. I'm an elementary school teacher who has taught in public schools in Japan and Europe for years and in U.S. schools for years. The fact is, the picture of the U.S. school lunch is spot on. And the Japanese and European lunches were always FAR SUPERIOR in quality and nutrition. And yes, national policy has a lot to do with it in other countries.
  32. Kristy
    My sister works at a private school cafeteria & those kids get amazing lunches, freshly prepared everyday & they complain constaintly, 1/2 the time they throw it out! My sister got so fed up with the kids complaining about how bad the food was to them b/c they didn't have certain things like extra oranges or a type of cereal they wanted. She literally told one student that they are lucky to get what they have b/c her niece & nephew (my kids) are eating at a public school & would kill for the kind of food they get everyday, probably wouldn't complain. At least their food is cooked fresh everyday & have things offered kids in public school don't, my kids would love the option of different choices instead of the gruel they are served in PS.
  33. Chris
    I worked in a daycare as a cook and the food that was wasted when I first got there blew my mind. By state laws there has to be certain nutrients for meals served. I got the director to lean towards my ideas to get the kids to actually eat it. I started with flipping over to fresh fruits and vegies and the kids loved it. I just cooked for them the way I did for my kids when they were younger and they ate almost everything that was put on their plates. Money saved and kids ate. A lot of kids don't have a clue what healthy food is, and their parents don't make them at least try it. I can't stand seeing kids eating packaged garbage all the time.
  34. Bob Muenchausen
    The most basic Fact is that lunches do differ, and that most of what qualifies them as "good" is what is acceptable within the local culture. It has little to do with nutrition, altho it should. When I was a kid in 1960 in NC, Liver Mush, tater tots, corn bread, milk and some sort of fruit was perfectly acceptable - in NC. When I would relate such fare to my new classmates in CA when I moved there a year or two later, the reaction was YUK!.
    Perhaps the real point should be nutrition, and the quality of food, food handling, and the choice on anyone's menu. Much more to the point than presentation. JMO
  35. Gwynedd
    I've traveled all over the world. American food is terrible, and getting worse. When we move back to the US, we could immediately see and taste the bad quality of ingredients and the increased use of additives and chemicals. In Germany, school ENDS at 1pm and kids go HOME for food. In other countries, the lunch is usually provided BY THE PARENT. The bottom line is that American food suppliers sell substandard fare, and parents should be responsible for sending kids to school with a basic and adequate meal, but...they don't anymore because THEY DON'T HAVE TO. So kids eat tater tots & nuggies and we call it "nutritious." Bah.
  36. Karissa smith
    I have to say, your article was contradictory. You were complaining that sweetgreens showed pictures of meals that were from either private schools or the wealthy. Then you go and you posted pictures of 5 super healthy u.s. school lunches. I would like to know where those pictures are from. There is no way those lunch came from a public school I'm the U.S. I have lived in several states, in many affluent areas. And if they did, these is no way most kids would eat that!That being said, I think America school lunch are disgusting and lack nutrition. I would gladly pay more, as the French do, to have a healthy nutritious lunch. Until then, I will keeping packing those lunch boxes:)
  37. Jeremy
    How about the millions of children who took photos in their actual lunchroom of their actual lunch that went viral last year?
  38. Pierre Lamarche
    You write "I fail to see what {Sweetgreen] accomplished by holding American schools up to an unrealistic international standard ... because the country in question invests far more time, money, and effort than the United States in feeding its children (France.)" Isn't that PRECISELY the reason for such interest in the original article!? Wasn't the response so strong precisely because it demonstrates that many countries that are not as affluent as the US, like France, "invest far more time, money, and effort...feeding its children." Check GDP per capita -- why on earth should it be "unrealistic" that American kids get the same quality lunch as French?? I fail to see what is gained by mocking your outraged friends for being `conned'.
  39. Nancy
    Karen Brown, you hit the nail on the head! We (school nutrition workers) are under tremendous pressure to make the meals appealing with the resources the government gives us. The meals in my school district are healthy and delicious.
    The students don't want to eat them because they are not taught to eat healthy foods. It's easy to tell which children are hungry in America. The hungry children will eat the broccoli, carrots, garden salad, and fruit.
  40. Jess
    I never got the feeling that they were trying to show that other countries were better just show us cultural differences. I liked that. As for your pics that you show of child's lunches here, they must come from wealthier public school areas because I have taught in several title one schools and none of their lunches looked like that. Some of the middle class and wealthy districts did, so it comes down to where you are.
  41. Alex
    Fact is, Greek diet is healthy, money or not. I've been there. Fat people don't flood the streets like in the States. Second fact is that US public school food is disgusting, that's why British chef Jamie Oliver devoted an entire TV show (and foundation) toward exposing the truth. This article was probably just trying to do the same.
  42. Chevy
    Simple solution invest the time and money into a thermos and have your children bring their lunch from home.School lunch is not a requirement and i think americans have become so opinionated and so entitled they forget that in some countries people are paying for school itself.hmmmm
  43. Georgian Mother
    Well, the thing is, back here, in Georgia, the lunches are absolute and utter crap. Not going to put it lightly. My daughter is so disgusted by them, that the only thing she buys is a piece of string cheese, a cup of yogurt, and 2 graham crackers. Every day. That is the only thing she eats because the food that they get is very bad, as mentioned before. I remember about a month ago she told me that the rice they were serving was undercooked and that the chicken still had blood in it. I doubt that those counties have food of that quality, but by God, I'm pretty sure they have it better than us. So, yeah they probably do still have better food in their lunches than ours, and it's probably healthier too. I don't know why I still buy her lunch.
  44. Cheryl
    Those 'staged' pictures of school lunches look amazing, but even if they really did look like that, I know our elementary students still would NOT eat it.
  45. lia
    I was one of the many kids that went to school mainly to eat two meals a day. I lived with my grandmother after my mom passed away, i was 6. Nana would cry every day lamenting the choices she had made when she was younger like dropping out of school at 16. She would always tell me to try harder because it was for my own good, to go to school and eat my food because there might not be dinner. Back then my focus was eating those two meals! I got a part time job when i turned 15 at a grocery store and was able to help out with buying groceries. I graduated went to community college and was good enough to transfer to Texas A&M and get my degree in engineering. I want to thank the mission school district for those two meals.
  46. Kier
    Districts do vary a lot in the US as far as food goes. I am a public school teacher (elementary level) and eat school lunches regularly in my district. They are healthy, low cost, and filling. I did work in another district in a past school year, and you couldn't pay me to eat their lunches.
  47. MMN
    in Finland food in school is free...and mostly healthy....pizzas are very rare treat... mostly school food is basic food that we eat in home...meatballs or meatloaf...mashed potato or boiled whole potatoes...different kinds of greens adn fruits..and so on...
  48. mls
    Or, maybe, the feds spend billions on school funding... which goes to bloated administrative beauracracies, and not to the kids... maybe throwing more and more and more and more and even more money at the problem is not really the solution...
  49. Kim
    I had the privilege of having my kids in public school in Germany for nearly 4 years. I can speak first hand about the quality of the lunches that our school district provided. It was a hot, catered lunch including vegetable salads and tasty entrees. All kids ate hot lunch in our school. My kids learned to eat (and like!) all sorts of foods like red cooked cabbage, cooked spinach and kohlrabi-- foods that they would not have tried at home.
  50. slicey
    Ugh- a mom working a minimum wage job paying her just enough to cover living expenses and without a set schedule with 2 kids and lucky enough to get SNAP and having 28 dollars a week for each person to spend on grocery and having to choose between the stores in her neighborhood that carry maybe 3 apples, 5 bananas and an orange on a good day, only person processed foods and sodas and no veggies or traveling to a store with an actual selection. Of course the store with an actual selection will mean either taking two tired and hungry and screaming children with her for the long trip or risk leaving them at home most likely alone while she makes a trip that some times can take 4 hours or more because she has to take a bus or go to another town
  51. Thank you for your excellent work! People get so upset seeing those perfect lunches. The reality is that schools are already underfunded, if there was money to retrofit school kitchens to cook instead of merely heat and serve, and also to employ cooks, that would be great but it is not the case. Still, they do their best bad many schools now offer fresh fruit (which kids still throw out because they want juice or a processed version !!) and not every home packed lunch is super healthy either, lots of chips, candy and lunch meats do come in. We need to improve for sure but its not all bad!!
  52. I live in Greece, I'm a Nutritionist specializing in the Mediterranean diet and consult for my son's school. The article above has some truth to it, but they are mistaken in their assumptions. Greek public schools never have offered lunch at school (even before the crisis). The reason is that in Greece we eat lunch late (around 2 pm). Children are at home by that time, so they eat at home. As for the private schools, yes it is a Mediterranean diet (not grape leaves though, that is more of an appetizer), but plenty of vegetable main course dishes, bean soups and fruit (yes tangerines) for dessert. Greece by the way has the highest vegetable consumption in the world. Here is my take on the US school lunches: http://www.olivetomato.com/?p=4372
  53. Christelle
    As a french, i guarantee you that the French meals in school are way closer to the American one Than the picture from the campaign. It's a known fact that French canteen are more often than not disgusting. We hide the bad taste of food with tones of salt and pepper. You will never see in a million years a steak like in the photo. We have disgusting chicken, dry beef patty, tasteless mixed vegetable( you can't even identify what vegetables you're eating) and if it's true that schools are obliged to provide vegetables there is french fries or puree almost everyday. Basically any child can eat puree or french fries everyday if he chooses to ignore the disgusting vegetables. Oh and whenever we have fish it's always breaded.
  54. Christelle
    In a nutshell French meal is like the American one. I admit that we have beer and kiwis once in a while but it's more often yogurts or flan.
    On the other hand the best canteen I've been to was when I studied in the uk! It was more expensive but totally worth it!
  55. Christelle
    Ps: not beer!! Brie!
    PPs.: there is not that many canteen provider in France most of them are "avenance" or "sodhexo" so what I'm saying is valid for pretty much the whole country
  56. Hi all:

    I'm the author of this piece and so glad to see that the post has stimulated such vigorous discussion, even though some people disagree with me.

    I can't find a way on this site to respond to individual comments so let me respond (in a series of comments due to space limitations) to some key points raised.

    1. The "School Meals that Rock" photos are NOT from private schools, but from public schools participating in the National School Lunch Program. That said, the districts in question may have advantages over others, such as lower labor costs, better kitchen equipment or a higher proportion of paying students. This is why I'm a proponent of an overall funding increase for the NSLP, to help ALL schools achieve these meals.
  57. 2. I think the post made clear that I'm not doubting that in some countries, the school meals really are as great as depicted by Sweetgreen. What I object to is a failure to explain to viewers of the photos WHY that might be the case, and instead letting them assume it must be due to uncaring school food workers or districts. That's just not true. In countries like Japan and France, the entire society gets behind healthy school food, with funds, nutrition education and resources, in a way that is just not the case here in the United States.
  58. For the commenters who reply, Well, just let kids bring a packed lunch, I'd like to point out that of the 31 million kids participating in the National School Lunch Program, over 20 million live close enough to the poverty line that they qualify for free or reduced price meals. These are not kids, by and large, who are coming from a home where a healthy, packed lunch is an alternative. In fact, school meals (which may include breakfast and supper, too) may be their sole source of nutrition during the week.

    Thanks again to all who took the time to comment on this post.

    - Bettina
  59. Linda
    I work in a cafeteria in a middle-class area. In the 4 years I've worked there I have seen major changes to the menu, as well as changes to packaging. Because our school district wants bragging rights to being a "green" school district, we have seen aprroxamately a 400-500% increase in recycled food packaging. Because they don't really have the funds to spend on such expensive packaging, the food quality, in my opinion, has decreased greatly. Also, I see many families receiving free or reduced lunches that clearly could afford to pay for their children's lunches. Perhaps if we gave reduced or free lunches to those who truly are in need, schools could better afford quality food.
  60. Kit
    Excellent article & very much on point.
  61. Julious
    Right now my family lives in greece i work for a marketing company. My son goes to a public school which has great school lunches they serve greek yogurt and stuffed grape leaves everyday and the entree is a rice or pasta with a meat
  62. Jennifer
    I'm a public school teacher and I can tell that, at the elementary schools i have worked in in PA, the lunches that were mostly of the chicken nugget, all beige variety pictured in the first photo in this article. I know there are school districts around the country, such as Berkeley Unified School District, that are bucking this trend. But, from my perspective, they are far from the norm. I agree that showing staged school lunches, and presenting them as real lunches from around the world, is not helpful. However, I do think it is very helpful to learn about how other countries approach this issue.

More from

School Food


hickens gather around a feeder at a farm on August 9, 2014 in Osage, Iowa. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

What Happened to Antibiotic-Free Chicken?

With the biggest poultry company in the country backtracking and other commitments to raising healthier birds unmet, the future is rockier than it once seemed.


Nik Sharma Offers His Top Tips for Home Cooks to Fight Recipe Fatigue

Nik Sharma baking at left, and tossing a chickpea dish at right. (Photo credit: Nik Sharma)

Far From Home, the Curry Leaf Tree Thrives

Zee Lilani of Kula Nursery stands among her curry leaf tree starts in Oakland, California. (Photo credit: Melati Citrawireja)

A Guide to Climate-Conscious Grocery Shopping

Changing How We Farm Might Protect Wild Mammals—and Fight Climate Change

A red fox in a Connecticut farm field. (Photo credit: Robert Winkler, Getty Images)