Kids Talk About the School Lunches They Love—and Hate

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Kids Talk About the School Lunches They Love—and Hate
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Kids Talk About the School Lunches They Love—and Hate

We asked kids from around the country to tell us about their favorite foods, legendary lunchroom trades, and what always ends up in the garbage. Read on to find out what these kids had to say about school lunches.

Photos courtesy of subjects

Maggie, 9, Roanoke, Virginia

"The school lunch smells weird and tastes bad. I pack my own lunch, things like bacon and pretzels and some fruits and vegetables."

Do you ever trade food at school? "Yes, but it’s against the rules, so we have to hide behind a big pole. Although I’m not sure if the lunch monitor is even awake."

Do any trades stand out in your mind as particularly good? "Once my friend traded a bit of pepperoni for some cheese, and cheese tastes awesome."

Syd, 9, Teaneck, New Jersey

"I bring lunch from home. My mom makes great stuff like chicken and spaghetti. A lot of times I take leftovers. The school lunch is right out of a factory so I won’t eat it. Plus, once my friend got a bagel from school and found a scab in it. A scab! She had to throw out her whole lunch."

Do you ever trade food? "Well, we aren’t allowed to, but a lot of kids sneak it anyway. I don’t think the lunch hands really watch much, but sometimes they see and then they tell the kids to stop but nothing really happens. The trades are pretty basic: like two potato chips for two Cheez-Its. That’s usually what everybody wants: Cheez-Its. There is a lot of trading for cookies, too."

Morrigan, 11, Roanoke, Virginia

"The food at the cafeteria is disgusting, so pretty much everyone brings their own lunch. My mom makes bacon and I pack everything else that I want, as long as it’s healthy."

Do you ever crave other kids’ unhealthy food? "Yeah: Nutella sandwiches. Sometimes kids bring in peanut butter with banana and Nutella sandwiches, and it sounds pretty darn awesome! It’s like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup with fruit and bread."

Do you ever trade food? "Yes: Bacon for cookies or cupcakes or chips or cucumbers."

Wait, yummy bacon for healthy cucumbers? "Well, I always have cucumbers, and I forgot to bring them that day. Anyway, I gave my friend the part of the bacon that I don’t like: the light part. I had a rather disgusting piece of light bacon that day. People have very different perspectives on bacon."

Maya, 13, Redlands, California

"I don’t eat school lunch. My mom has always fed me good organic food. At school, they give you cut-up pineapple in plastic that doesn’t look or taste like pineapple! It’s white and smells like rubbing alcohol. Everything at school tastes like plastic to me. The burritos are so bad kids just throw them at each other."

Are the other kids jealous of what you bring? "Yeah. Everybody steals my food because it’s from Trader Joe’s! I bring really healthy stuff like sandwiches with lettuce and all-natural wheat bread."

Do you ever trade? "Not so much, but a lot of trading goes on. We have vending machines at our school so a lot of kids will trade something for a dollar so they can get chips or Rice Krispies Treats. The other day, my friend said, ‘I’ll give you three granola bars, an apple, and all this stuff if you get me a Rice Krispies Treat.’ It was practically her whole lunch for one treat! A lot of my friends eat really unhealthy. They leave all the healthy stuff their parents give them like apples on the table. You know that fake cheese that’s precut? My friends think it tastes really good, but I don’t like how it tastes because I have this magical organic cheese from Whole Foods. If you’re raised on unhealthy food you don’t see anything wrong with it. I used to live in Costa Rica and the lunches were healthier and tastier there. Prisoners in the U.S. have better lunches than public school students! Maybe that’s the whole idea: Bad school lunches make kids go crazy and become criminals and then they go to jail so they can get better food."

Maya, 8, New York City

"Sometimes I bring a home lunch, but usually I eat the school lunch. I really like the pizza and the cheese sticks. Every time I know they’re going to serve pasta I ask my mom to pack me a lunch. She makes my favorite sandwich, which is ham and cheese, plus an apple, a chocolate milk, and a yogurt."

Are there any snacks that are especially good for trading? "Oreos. I trade them for packages of sweet cereal, like Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Lucky Charms. I just eat them out of the box. They’re better without the milk. One time I had just plain oatmeal cookies and someone else had chocolate chip cookies so they stole my trade and I was like, ‘Awww, man!’"

Max, 10, Pascoag, Rhode Island

"I eat the cafeteria lunch! They’ve got chicken nuggets, chicken patties, and chicken parm."

So you’re a chicken fan? "Yeah, and pasta with meat sauce. I like meat."

Do you ever bring snacks to trade? "I bring stuff like Pirate’s Booty, but trading food is against the rules. So I don’t do it because I’m a good kid."

Do only bad kids trade? "Well, most of the kids who trade aren’t bad. They’re just not appropriate kids to hang out with. I mean, I traded once. It was such a good deal, I just couldn’t resist. It was ice Popsicle day and I didn’t like the flavor I got. So I traded grape for strawberry. Grape isn’t right. It never tastes like an actual grape."

Shannon, 10, Bloomfield, New Jersey

"I don’t have a taste for the school lunches, except Friday pizza days, but since I’m not signed up for them I have to bring food from home. Usually leftovers like tacos, Cuban beef stew, and chili and stuff. It’s really good! Some of the lunch monitors are jealous. Once one of them saw what I was eating and said, ‘Wow! That looks pretty good! I wish I had that instead of these lunches.’"

It sounds like you don’t need to trade. "Well, on pizza days I’ll give my friend a taco for a slice. There are a lot of kids who trade for fruit snacks and cookies. The best trade I ever saw was when my friend brought in a bunch of fortune cookies and traded them for pizza."

Joey, 7, Austin, Texas

"I usually bring my own lunch 'cause I really don’t like the cafeteria food that much. They usually don’t cook it very well or they burn it. My mom usually packs me sandwiches, like peanut butter and Nutella or peanut butter and jelly or just peanut butter."

So you like peanut butter? "Yes! I’m really scared because I’m going to a new school and nuts aren’t allowed. And I don’t eat meat or cheese, so I don’t know what I’m going to eat!"

Do you ever trade food? "It’s against the rules to trade. Sometimes other kids break the rules, but not me. They go to a place that the teachers can’t see and trade their snacks and stuff. If you get caught, you have to sit on the side during recess. Everyone begs me to trade this popcorn my mom always packs for me. Sometimes I give them a little bit to be nice but not really that much."

Ezra, 10, Seattle

"You have a choice: You can eat the school lunch or bring your own. It depends on what they’re serving. Like, I love the chicken burgers, pizza, quesadillas, and burritos. But I always pack a lunch when they serve salads."

Have you ever made a particular great food trade? "Not me, but one day my friend traded a bag of yucky SunChips for two granola bars with this sweet sticky stuff that holds them together. I thought that was a pretty good trade."

Ethan, 9, Los Angeles

"My mom usually packs my lunch. I like noodles and pinwheels and mac and cheese with ham, stuff like that. One time she gave me veggie mac and cheese. I ate it, but I told her not to do that again."

Do you ever trade food at school? "No, it’s against the rules. Anyway, I’m not into sharing food. I don’t want to get sick from other kids’ germs."

Andrea, 12, suburb of Boston

"Usually I eat the school lunch. Every day they have pizza and hamburgers, hot dogs, meatball subs, bagels, and Caesar salads. I like most of it, but some things are kind of disgusting. Like the bagels with cheese. It sounds good, but a lot of times there are spots of brown on the American cheese. And sometimes they serve expired milk. But mostly it’s good."

Do you ever do food trades? "They have this thing called à la carte where you buy cookies and pretzels and chips after lunch. Sometimes people will trade bits of cookies for chips or pretzels. Having cookies is like having the most money in food."

Anaya, 8, New York City

"I eat the school lunch and the snacks. My favorite is Bagel-fuls—they’re like a roll with cinnamon inside. And I like the tacos. I don’t know what kind of meat is in them though. When I don’t like what they’re serving, I get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They always have those."

Do you ever make trades? "Sometimes I trade one half of my peanut butter and jelly for Goldfish. Sometimes kids just give me snacks because they’re nice. Once, a friend of mine traded carrots for a tiny toy skateboard. That was cool."

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By Raven Snook

When it comes to school lunch, there are two things the majority of kids seem to agree on: Most of what cafeterias serve is gross and unhealthy (and, at times, downright unsanitary); and anything with sugar is worth its weight in gold. Despite rules prohibiting food trading at many schools to protect students with allergies, there's still a lot of snack swapping going on in dark corners, and sweet treats are perpetually in big demand. We asked kids from around the country to tell us about their favorite foods, legendary lunchroom trades, and what always ends up in the garbage.

Check out the slideshow above to see what these kids had to say about school lunches.

Photos courtesy of subjects

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