Boy, do we feel old. The last time we ate in a school cafeteria was nearly 10 years ago. Fortunately, by that time, the government had many nutritional programs in place to ensure kids were provided healthy options with well-balanced meals. Think about the food pyramid for a second. School lunches should have the most vegetables and fruit, followed by wholemeal breads, pasta, and rice, followed by dairy products, followed by spreads and oils. At the very top of the food pyramid, the smallest section, are foods and drinks that are high in fat, sugar, and salt. Because we live in a time where nutritional information is at our fingertips (and on the actual packaging), most adults are pretty well in-tune with what's healthy versus unhealthy.
But imagine trying to make that call in the 1900s -- long before apps like MyFitnessPal and LoseIt! were around. Long before the internet could provide facts and numbers. Imagine how low the funding was for school lunches during World War II and the Great Depression. Food wasn't a top priority, let alone healthy food. It costs an absurd amount of money to shop organic. And yet, fast food chains offer $1 Menu meals. Seems unfair. Here's a peek at what school lunches were like from the early 1900s to modern day.
20 What Kind Of Side Salad Is This?
Nice try, guys. What you see in the top left corner of this kid's lunch tray is not a side salad. It's five shredded pieces of lettuce with a packet of ranch dressing on the side.
When it comes to salads, people often forget that the most calorie-heavy component is not the salad itself (lettuce barely has any calories as it's mainly water) -- but the dressing. Especially when you're talking about ranch, blue cheese, and thousand island. Try switching those out for vinegar, fruit-flavored vinaigrettes, or greek dressing. Sorry, but that is not a proper salad. It should at least have some carrot shavings or fresh tomatoes.
19 Chicken Nuggets And A Plate Of Brown Food
You know the saying, "eat with your eyes?" We judge the value of a plate by how it looks first -- just ask all those food bloggers who have such gorgeous Instagram feeds. The taste comes second.
In this case, we're pretty bummed out by the color scheme on this lunch tray. What's with all the brown food? Cookies, pretzels, and chicken nuggets do not make a well-balanced lunch.
And, we can almost guarantee that juice box does not contain real juice, so they're calling it a "juice blend" of sugar and chemicals. Yummy. Eating should really be about stimulating all the senses in a positive way.
18 The Candied Apple Sugar High
It's hard to imagine a time when such a sugary treat was considered healthy in school cafeterias. But hey, at least kids ate a full-sized apple for lunch back then, even though it was coated in caramel sauce.
The sugared candied apple was first introduced in schools in the 1910s. Back then, lunch only cost 3 cents. Kids who had extra money on them could treat themselves to a dessert, such as the candied apple, rice pudding, and stewed prunes -- the prunes being the healthiest option out of the three. Nowadays, candied apples are found at fairs and amusement parks rather than cafeterias. Phew!
17 There Was A Time When Kids Drank Coffee
In the world of coffee, not all pours are created equal. The healthiest choice is plain black coffee with no creamer or sugar, but how many of us order it like that? Starbucks is famous for creating all kinds of drinks with whipped cream, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, and so on.
Calories aside, there's no reason why children should be drinking coffee in any form. They don't need the caffeine which messes with their central nervous system.
But don't believe the rumor that coffee stunts your growth. We looked into this speculation online and found that many articles said it was false.
16 Breakfast Pizza With No Greens
Doesn't this breakfast pizza just look sad? Knowing that a child only had blueberries, chocolate milk, and melted cheese on a bagel for lunch makes us want to cry. Where's the protein?
Obviously, pizza, in general, isn't the healthiest choice for kids, but at least put some greens on it.
Maybe some cilantro or arugula. It's even worth seeing if kids will eat kale if it's on top of a pizza. Pineapple, fresh peppers, mushrooms, and olives are healthier toppings compared to bacon and salami. A homemade pizza baked with love and a thin crust would have been a much more nutritious option.
15 Mystery Meat... Enough Said
No, seriously, this stuff is called "mystery meat." We don't know which animal it came from, what part, or how it was prepared. Mystery meat was a popular lunch option in the 1890s. Approximately 100 years old, the concept of a prepared and well-balanced school lunch didn't exist. Most kids went home for their meal in between classes, or if they had a few cents in their pocket, they bought a less-than-healthy treat from a street vendor. Good luck finding organic or grass-fed meat. These days, we're blessed with such options at the grocery store to keep our health (and the environment) in check -- although it's pricier to eat this way.
14 Pork Mush Known As Scrapple... Yum
Well, this sure looks appetizing, doesn't it? Sense the sarcasm. In the 1940s, every US state was federally onboard in supporting lunch programs.
But when World War II hit, and funding and the numbers drastically dropped, many children were left without meals at school. That's when this brown mush concoction was invented for the first time.
It's called scrapple and it's essentially a pork mush. It was the most wallet-friendly way to put lunch together. After the war, Congress passed the National School Lunch Act and things started to improve. The budget went up, the quality in food went up, and nutritional value went up.
13 Chocolate Milk For (Maybe?) Strong Bones
Speaking of chocolate milk, is all that extra sugar really necessary? The average calorie count in a cup of whole milk is 103. That amount is doubled in chocolate milk due to the added flavor. Strawberry milk isn't any better at around 234 calories. Although kids may prefer the taste of chocolate in their drink, it's definitely not the healthiest option. Whole milk is great for building bone strength, providing calcium, Vitamin D, and high levels of phosphorus and magnesium. There's a reason those "Got Milk?" ads were so popular. Everywhere you looked in the 90s, there were celebrities rocking a milk mustache.
12 Lunchables Were An 80s Staple
We're fairly confident that every single American 90s or 80s baby has tried Lunchables at least once in their lives. According to Mental Floss, it's one of the best-selling kids' products of all time -- and it's easy to understand why. The Lunchables packet is like a packed lunchbox containing a little bit of protein, a little bit of fat, a little bit calcium, and so on. Also, how fun is it to build your own pizza? Lunchables gave kids a chance to be creative with their food and customize it. Health isn't a popularity contest, though, and Lunchables were definitely not the healthiest lunch choice.
11 Followed By The Classic Dunkaroos
Following the rise of McDonald's and KFC, school cafeterias eventually got lazy.
Instead of imitating fast food with their own unique recipes, they let fast food operators into their kitchens to do the hard work for them.
Federal government standards allowed McDonald’s, Little Caesar’s, Chick-fil-A, and others to set up shop and sell their products to kids. Scary, right? Similar to Lunchables, the Dunkaroos snack (consisting of cookies and icing from the Betty Crocker brand) was a favorite amongst children in the 90s. It's no surprise that obesity was now on the rise. Kids had no other choice but to eat fast food inside their cafeteria.
10 An Apple Shortcake A Day Keeps The Doctor Away
Within that same decade, public organizations realized that because mom and dad had to work, kids had no other choice but to eat lunch on campus. And so, organizations like the Women's Education and Industrial Union began providing meals for the ones who didn't go home.
Elementary school children were typically given crackers, soup, and milk, which seems like hardly enough food to sustain a growing child until dinner.
Think of food as fuel to keep the brain and body functioning properly. At Boston’s Trade School for Girls, lunch options included celery soup with croutons, stuffed tomatoes, apple shortcake, baked beans, and brown bread with chocolate milk.
9 Rice Pudding Was Considered A Delicacy
Similar to the candied apple, rice pudding was considered a delicacy in the 1910s -- only affordable to kids who had extra money in their pockets. Although it's made from rice, which typically contains a high nutritional value, the pudding element ruins it. White and brown rice are a great source of energy and can help control blood pressure.
But when you add the dark brown sugar and vanilla flavoring, the calories add up and it becomes less about health and more about dessert.
Rice crackers have risen in popularity over the years as a replacement for bread. Less carbs, less calories, and rice crackers pair nicely with almost everything!
8 Frankfurters - The Original Hot Dog
Moving into the 1920s, this era put an emphasis on serving a "hot lunch," which is way better than snacking on chips, cookies, and crackers. Schools around the country incorporated stews, boiled meats, and creamed vegetables with a side of bread into their cafeterias. There's something so homey and comforting about a hot meal that reminds us of grandmother's kitchen. This was a big step in the right direction considering many parents were still letting their kids eat frankfurters, potato chips, and pickles for lunch. It seems cafeterias were on the right track in changing the way parents fed their children.
7 Applesauce Made From No Real Apples
Apple slices would be better, but out of all the lunch options on this list, Mott's Cinnamon Applesauce isn't the worst. According to their website, it's made from real ripe apples and has just a touch of cinnamon sprinkled on top. MyFitnessPal claims it has 50 calories in 3.9 ounces, which, honestly, isn't that bad compared to apple shortcake and fake apple juice. It's also high in Vitamin C. Still, applesauce in a plastic container shouldn't replace actual fruit on a daily basis. A small snack here and there is just fine. After all, eating is all about balance and moderation.
6 Fish Sticks With A Side Of Fries
The 1960s were an exciting time for school cafeterias. Foods that were once considered "ethnic," like pizza, spaghetti bolognese, and enchiladas made their way onto menus. It was like taking a trip to Mexico or Italy for many kids who only witnessed such different flavors on TV. Thanks to the National School Lunch Act, kids now had a bunch of choices, including classic American meals such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, meatloaf with mashed potatoes, and fish sticks with tartar sauce and french fries on the side. The biggest problem with fish sticks is the batter and breaded outside. Without that, fish is generally low in fat and high in Omega-3 acids.
5 What Happened To The Classic PB & J Sandwich?
The peanut butter and jelly sandwich is an American classic. And, it can be a somewhat healthy lunch with whole grain bread, low-sugar jelly, and one-ingredient peanut butter using only, well, peanuts. No added sugars or salt.
But this graham cracker alternative is probably the worst version kids could eat for lunch. One single serving of graham crackers has approximately 60 calories and has little-to-no nutritional value. Bread, on the other hand, can be high in fiber with a lot of grains. There's also gluten-free bread on the market now. We stand behind the peanut butter and jelly sandwich as long as it's made with proper bread.
4 Cafeterias Didn't Stand A Chance Against Fast Food
Moving into the 1970s, school cafeterias didn't stand a chance against the wave of fast food chains. Seriously, everywhere you looked people were eating McDonald's french fries and cheeseburgers and Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Knowing these meals made kids seriously happy, schools added their own burgers and fried chicken recipes to their menus -- not paying attention to the health factor.
If kids had it their way, they'd probably eat fast food all the time, but as adults, we have to be smarter about this. Just because it's called a Happy Meal doesn't mean it's good for you. Fast food chains were smart by adding toys into the mix to entice children.
3 If Only The Corn Wasn't Buttered...
Why the sad patty? Maybe this kid was let down by their buttered corn. Normally we'd ask, "Why ruin a good thing?" but butter is one of those guilty pleasures that really does make most foods taste better. Lobster, popcorn, pancakes, waffles, we could go on and on about the delicious flavor of butter. But the harsh truth is, butter is one of the worst spreads because of its high saturated fat content. Too much butter on a regular basis can lead to clogged arteries. Fortunately, we have a healthier alternative now called "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter."
2 Fruit Gelatin Doesn't Replace Actual Fruit
Fruit gelatin is basically jello with chunks of fruit in it. It should not, and does not, replace fresh fruit in a school lunch.
In fact, fruit gelatin is more of a dessert than a main course. Jello is the definition of empty calories.
On the bright side, it's low in cholesterol, fat, and sodium. But it's also low in potassium and protein. The only thing jello contains is fat from all that sugar. Think of it as flavored sugar -- 10 grams of it to be exact in one single serving of jello. Fresh fruit is a vital part in keeping our vision, heart, and central nervous system healthy.
1 The Ecto Cooler Was A Drink Covered In Slime
Last but not least is the Ecto Cooler. This orange-tangerine was a drink product of the Hi-C brand. In 1989, following the release of Ghost Busters, Hi-C introduced this limited-time beverage inspired by Slimer -- the talking green goo monster in the movie franchise that kids seemed to love so much. The Ecto Cooler was discontinued in 1997 but reappeared on the shelves in 2016 under the Coca-Cola conglomerate. Since when is green goo appetizing? The sight of Slimer doesn't make us thirsty, it makes us sick. Maybe kids don't feel the same way. Remember when Pepsi Blue was a thing? Those bright colors attracted kids like moths to a flame.
References: wholesomemommy.com, mentalfloss.com, foulnastyschoolunch.com, knowgluten.me, hopeeternalcookbook.com, quizbean.com, myfitnesspal.com, libraries.psu.edu, americanlunchroom.com, fedupwithlunch.com, schoollunchfoundguilty.com, imgur.com