If you ask students what their favorite class is, many will answer either lunch or gym. And why not? It’s fun to eat and exercise with your friends.

But have you ever stopped to think how much thought and work goes into making lunch for all the students at your school? Have you ever made dinner for your family? Can you imagine cooking an entire meal for hundreds of kids?

School lunches got started way back in 1899. Principal Arthur Burch of South Division High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, asked for permission to open a lunch room in his school. His goal was to provide a hot lunch to students, so that they could perform better in school in the afternoons.

It wasn’t until 1946 that President Truman signed the National School Lunch Act. The Act created the National School Lunch Program. Today, the Program provides nutrition assistance from the federal government to over 101,000 institutions, most of which are public or non-profit private schools.

Those schools that participate in the Program get money from the federal government, as well as food from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In return, they promise to serve lunches that meet minimum nutrition requirements set by the government.

So how many lunches are we talking about? According to the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, the National School Lunch Program provides lunches to over 31 million children each school day!

Experts hope that making school lunches even healthier will lead to healthier kids who grow into healthier adults. This movement gained a lot of support in 2010 when President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law. The aim of this legislation is to decrease hunger and obesity in American children.

To support the new law, the USDA enacted a new set of nutritional standards for school lunches in the 2012-13 school year. These new standards represent the first major revision to school lunch nutritional requirements in over 15 years.

The new regulations deliver for more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products. There are also stricter limits on the amounts of saturated fats, sodium, calories and trans fats allowed in school lunches.

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    • We’re sure the great people who work hard to make and serve the lunches in your school’s cafeteria would be SO HAPPY to hear this, Maddy! Thank you for visiting Wonderopolis today! :-)

  1. I strongly dislike my school lunches! So I pack. But, next year I am going to middle school, so I will get a decent lunch there. Great wonder!!!

    • We appreciate you letting us know about the lunches at your school, Anne! How exciting that you will be in middle school next year! We bet you are going to have SO MUCH fun learning new things there, too, just like you do in Wonderopolis! :-)

  2. I love my school lunches at school. Some of them I dislike (like their green beans and peas)
    and the rest I enjoy (like their pizza and desserts). I will be at middle school next year, so I will have a chance to try their lunches they make. This wonder rocks! :D

    • Thanks for sharing what you like and dislike about your elementary school lunches, Julie! We’re excited that you will be in middle-school next year! We hope you have a SUPER GREAT time and learn LOTS of new things about the world around you! Don’t forget to WONDER every day! :-)

  3. My 6yr old answered the wonder question without even a pause. “One!”, he announced. I paused; then asked him to explain. He chuckled and said “Why would a school have more than one lunch?”

    I love the way his little mind works! :)

    • That’s music to our ears, Kell! Thank you so much for sharing the Wonder at home and also your comment! Way to go, Wonder Friend! Keep using that WONDERful imagination of yours! :)

  4. I did not know that there were so many lunches served a day!
    But still, do kids actually LIKE school lunches? And how much money does it cost to make all of those lunches anyway? (Let me guess, it’s classified by government intel.)

    • Hey Hannah, you learn something new every day! :)

      Thanks for sharing your other WONDERful questions with us, too! Nice work! We Wonder if you can take a poll in your classroom; you can ask students to answer the question, “Do you like school lunch?” or “Do you think our school lunches are tasty?” It’s a great way to find out what your own classmates think!

      Keep WONDERing! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How many school lunches are served each day?
  • Have there always been school lunch programs?
  • What steps is the government taking to create healthier school lunches?

Wonder Gallery

cute girl holding lunch tray_shutterstock_15658711Schoolgirl enjoying her lunch in a school cafeteriaELunchladies serving plates of lunch in school cafeteriaVimeo Video

Try It Out

Hungry yet? We sure are! Grab a friend or family member — and a snack or two! — and get ready to explore school lunches in greater depth when you try out one or more of the following activities:

  • What are some of your favorite school lunches? What are some of your least favorite? Different people like different foods, of course, so not everyone will love every school lunch. Make a list of your five favorite school lunches of all time. Why do you like these lunches the most? If you could create your own “perfect” school lunch, what would it include? Discuss your opinions with friends and family members. Do they agree with you? What were your parents’ favorite school lunches when they were children?
  • Many schools allow children to bring their own lunch to school. For some kids, this is a good option on those days when the school serves a lunch that’s not one of their favorites. Packing your own lunch can be great, because you get to pack the kinds of foods you like to eat. It can also be tricky, though, because you might be tempted to pack foods that aren’t as nutritious as those served at school. For help with packing a healthy school lunch, check out these tips:
  • How healthy are your school lunches? If you’re curious and up for a challenge, why not find out? Choose a recent school lunch and jump online to complete Internet research to find all of the relevant nutrition information for that lunch. How many total calories did it have? What about fats and carbohydrates? Which of the foods contained a good supply of vitamins and minerals? For an even greater challenge, analyze the school lunch you researched and figure out how you could make it healthier. What alternatives could you choose to improve the overall nutrition of the meal? Share your findings with your teachers and classmates!

Still Wondering

Explore the Science NetLinks’ Got Broccoli? interactive lesson to learn how to gather information about nutrition and create an advertisement to promote healthy eating habits!

Test Your Knowledge

Wonder What’s Next?

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