15 Sad School Cafeteria Lunches That Will Make You Cringe

August 23, 2019

In the field of nutrition, school cafeteria lunches have always been a hot topic.

After all, from behavior to attention span, a child’s performance in school is directly affected by the food they eat. Yet, school lunches in the United States have a horrible reputation.

They’re known for mystery meat, unidentifiable food objects, and piles of colorless slop. If you grew up in the States, then you totally know what we’re talking about. Ugh.

That’s not to say school lunch standards haven’t improved in recent years, though. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which was passed in 2010, called on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update the nutrition guidelines for school lunches. This included serving more whole grains, fruits, and veggies, along with less salt and unhealthy fats.

However, not all school menus have improved. Funding is a major obstacle, as low budgets make it difficult to regularly serve wholesome, nutritious foods. We have a long way to go, to say the least. Just take a look at these school cafeteria lunches students have posted on Instagram. There’s a good chance you’ll thank the foodie gods that you’re not in school anymore.

But you know what? It sucks that this is even a thing. Here’s to hoping that, one day, a future generation can look back on their school lunches and feel good about what they ate.

1. Cheese that looks like plastic

While it’s no secret cheese slices are overly processed, this particular slice literally looks like plastic.

It even tasted it like, according to @chloechesney, who posted the school lunch on Instagram. The meal seems like a somber attempt at an open-faced grilled cheese, but it’s not clear if the school actually called it that. “I showed my dad and he said he was going to do something about it!” said @chloechesney in the comments. We don’t blame you, Dad.

2. Three chicken tenders

Fried chicken tenders may not be the healthiest food, but they can (sometimes) fill you up.

Well, unless you get just three chicken tenders. This high school lunch features a trio of chicken tenders, ketchup, chocolate milk, and what looks like a kiwi. “Let’s try to pretend that three chicken tenders can satisfy the hunger of growing teenagers… nope, sorry, can’t do it,” says @ms_lunchrant, who posted the picture.

3. Sticky whipped cream

In this student’s school lunch, the whipped cream has  stuck together.

It’s not clear what the whipped cream was served on or with. And while the whipped cream might be frozen or chilled, you shouldn’t be able to hold it with a fork. From our perspective, it looks like a dollop of whipped cream that has somehow congealed and held its shape. Either way, it’s questionable as heck.

4. The lone hot dog

It’s one thing to serve processed meat to kids at lunch.

But serving a hot dog without a bun or toppings? C’mon now. Granted, maybe the student declined the bun, but this meal still has its downfalls. Aside from containing an insane amount of sodium, hot dogs are full of tons of preservatives and additives. Top it off with canned peaches and watery mac and cheese and you have one dismal lunch.

5. Unidentified food object

Is it a pizza? Is it a burger? Is it a… burger pizza?

We have so many questions, you guys. According to the caption, this mysterious pile of food was served at Cooper City High School in Cooper City, Florida. It looks like it could be a pizza, but the semi-translucent red sauce suggests otherwise. Regardless, our kids deserve much better than this.

6. Pale chicken and even paler fruit

Much like those chicken tenders, five chicken nuggets won’t satisfy a growing teenager.

And can we talk about that bowl of fruit on the side? Why does it look like raw chicken meat? We’re thinking it’s canned pears, but it’s hard to tell what kind of fruit it actually is. But with five chicken nuggets, canned fruit, and some chocolate milk, this lunch gets two thumbs down.

7. British roast without the actual roast

Contrary to popular belief, American schools aren’t the only ones with questionable school cafeteria lunches.

This meal was served at St Catherine’s School in Twickenham, a town in southwest London, England. According to the caption, the “traditional British roast” features a thin slice of beef, one small roasted potato, a Yorkshire pudding, and just one half of a boiled egg. Needless to say, you don’t need to be British to know that this is a sad British roast.

8. Plain jane chicken soup

With the right ingredients, chicken noodle soup has the potential to be super healthy.

It’s the perfect “vehicle” for vegetables like celery, carrots, and cabbage or spinach. Heck, even frozen or canned veggies would add some nutrients. But apparently, at Gosnell High School in Arkansas, the chicken noodle soup is far from appealing. “Why does this have to be hot and tasteless?” says Instagram user @mixedmexican18, who posted the photo.

9. Mystery meat patty

This questionable “sandwich” features the infamous mystery school meat.

It looks like there’s corn and some kind of tomato ingredient (ketchup?) cooked into the patty. The lunch, which was served at Honeoye Falls–Lima High School outside of Rochester, New York, was hilariously called “Ohio meat” in the comments. And hey, they’re not wrong — it is kinda shaped like Ohio.

10. Ground meat mush

If you were served mushy meat with a drizzle of melted cheese, you’d be bummed out too.

This particular cafeteria lunch was also served at Honeoye Falls–Lima High School. It’s hard to tell if this was supposed to be a burrito or quesadilla, but that’s besides the point. It just doesn’t look appetizing. “Ground beef or a baby diaper??!” said the caption, “You choose.” It’s yet another mystery.

11. Cardboard pizza

Pizza is supposed to be fun, cheesy, and delicious.

But unfortunately, this school lunch pizza posted looks like burnt cardboard. “Why the hell would schools serve this,” said Instagram user @paytonmackenzie, who originally shared the photo. When asked what it was, their response was “Pizza I think? I didn’t eat today.” You know something is wrong with pizza when it somehow looks this unappealing.

12. Rotten apple

Fruits like apples, bananas, and oranges are perfect for school lunch.

Not only are they travel-friendly, but they’re chock-full of vitamins and minerals. You can’t go wrong. Unless, of course, the apples go bad and something funky starts growing in the center, like this one served at a high school. Let’s just hope it was a one-time occurrence and the other fruits served to the students were in better shape.

13. A pepperoni disaster

The combination of bread, cheese, and pepperoni has so much potential.

Yet, at a school in Southwell, Nottinghamshire, the combo is left to be desired. According to the caption, the meal consists of “Pepperoni and Parmigiano Reggiano atop a soft Italian loaf.” It sounds fancier than it really is, as one Instagram user pointed out. “0/10 that’s pepperoni on a sub,” they commented.

14. Sandwich halves and slop

Aside from the dismal sandwich half, this school meal features a whole bunch o’ slop.

One serving of slop is applesauce, while the other is a bit unidentifiable. It looks like some kind of mashed potatoes with popcorn chicken, but again — it’s difficult to know for sure. Most importantly, this lunch is lacking some color. Can we get some veggies and fruits in here, please?

15. Hot dogs in cheesy blankets

The lone hot dog strikes again, but this time with a blanket of processed cheese.

According to the caption, these particular hot dogs did not include buns. This seems to be a thing these days, huh? Again, this is one of those things that has potential, even though hot dogs and cheese slices aren’t the healthiest foods. Here’s to hoping some veggies or fruits were served on the side, at least.