Admit it: When you were a whippersnapper paying your dues in your local school system, you probably tried to avoid the mystery meat of the day the way a vegan avoids eating animals. With few exceptions -- namely extra-crispy pepperoni pizza (round or rectangle; they both met the minimum edibility requirements, if "edibility" is, in fact, a word), cookies, copious quantities of chocolate milk, and the ultimate juggernaut of taste when it came to cafeteria food: glorious, golden-baked Jamaican beef patties -- it was simply too high a social risk to consume the majority of mysterious conglomerations that "lunch ladies" ladled onto those flimsy, Styrofoam trays.
To a teenager who used about a quarter-cup of hair gel every morning to form perfect scalp stalagmites, the choice between starving oneself at lunch and then having to run two miles during eighth-period gym class on an empty stomach versus the unknown possibilities that could ensue from scarfing some of Ethel and Gertrude's "secret-recipe" chili was as clear as vodka.
#5) Edible Schoolyard NOLA -- New Orleans
New Orleans is a mecca for dining, so it should be the case that the great food carries over into the schools. Thanks to the Edible Schoolyard NOLA program, it does. Students don't just eat great food in the FirstLine schools where this program runs, they also plant and harvest it, learn about its history and nutrition, and sometimes even cook it. That's right: the kids are lucky enough to have kitchen classrooms on select sites, allowing them to truly get hands-on in the process. Dishes you'll find at Edible Schoolyard NOLA schools include sweet potato soufflé, watermelon, feta and mint salad, and Mexican chopped salad. Photo Credit: Facebook/Edible Schoolyard New OrleansClick Here to see More of The Best School Lunches in America
#4) Ross School — Hamptons, New York
As a member of the Green School Alliance, Ross puts an emphasis on conservation, using ingredients sourced from local farmers and business in more than half the food served in the illustrious Ross Café. Additionally, students learn to grow and harvest crops from the school’s organic garden, some of which are used in the café and others donated to a local food bank. The students bus their own tables, sort the recycling, and even send food scraps to a local farm for compost. Meals run the gamut, from Brazilian fish and shellfish stew, chili (beef and vegetarian), brick oven margherita pizza and balsamic-glazed salmon to mac and cheese, spinach and feta pie, red beans and rice with andouille sausage and brown rice with roasted zucchini and sautéed broccoli rabe. Photo Credit: Facebook/ Ross School
#3) Calhoun School — Manhattan, New York
No kidding: the French Culinary Institute’s chef Bobo is in charge of this NYC private school’s “Eat Right Now” culinary program, and he doesn’t disappoint. Ten-day menus are submitted a week in advance by rotating members of Bobo’s kitchen squadron, with each set containing 40 percent chicken, 20 percent red meat, 20 percent fish and 20 percent vegetarian. There’s a fully stocked salad bar with dressings made from scratch each day by in-house chefs, along with daily soups, sandwiches (which are typically vegetarian), and starches like quinoa and whole-wheat pasta. Photo Credit: Facebook/ Calhoun SchoolClick Here to see More of The Best School Lunches in America
#2) Dalton School — Manhattan, New York
This NYC private school boasts a menu that rivals nearby restaurants, teaching the future-leaders-of-America early on about the amazing eats they can look forward to once they graduate from the Ivy League college of their choice and land a lucrative job at a high-powered firm. That’s the plan, at least. With “Meatless Monday” and “Tasty Tuesday” as integral aspects of the weekly-changing menu, the kids here never get bored. Photo Credit: Facebook/ Dalton School
#1) Sidwell Friends School — Washington, D.C.
If you’ve got the two First Daughters enrolled at your academy, you’d better be sure the lunch is luxurious. And that’s exactly how it is at Sidwell. Cuisines you’d never dream of show up on the menu here, such as an entire lunch of Brazilian delicacies like feijoada, caldo verde soup, all-natural chicken with coconut milk, and mango and pineapple with lime and mint. There’s a soup every day, like borscht, creamy spinach soup or Tuscan white bean, and creative dishes like the Creole caprese salad or hot and sour Cajun gumbo served on “Fat Tuesday.” Photo Credit: Sidwell Friends SchoolClick Here to see More of The Best School Lunches in America
Thank goodness somebody realized how backwards it was to serve such unappealing, nutritionally lacking lunches. In the past decade, enormous changes have been made nationwide in the ways learning institutions feed our offspring. Initiatives have been undertaken where schools have students manage organic gardens on premises and take field trips to local farms to learn where their lunch originates and how it grows. Budgets have been utilized more thoughtfully and efficiently, investing in these same farms to supply students with the freshest ingredients and an abundance of healthy choices, and in other creative, culinary-geared ways.
Some of the public schools (and, in some cases, entire districts) that made this list earned their place by overhauling pre-existing systems that were clearly in need of a makeover; others were added because their private school status afforded them the luxury of an on-staff celebrity chef (I'm not kidding, people). Most of these schools integrate nutrition, food history, and business and economic principles -- like supply and demand and supply-chains -- into curriculum by way of their culinary programs, some going as far as to bring esoteric teachings like bee-keeping into the mix. And our top school on the list had better have gourmet fare in its cafeteria -- it's where the POTUS's daughters attend.
Schools like The Calhoun School in Manhattan, New York, have a French culinary chef weighing-in on the menu design, and ten-day menus are even submitted a week in advance. Others like the high schools in Burlington, Vermont, source a third of all their ingredients for the lunches locally and add bonus fruits and vegetables, and unlimited milk to meals for hungry students.
Check out the slideshow to see how privileged these young students are when it comes to lunch, but prepare for some serious jealousy!
-Erik Mathes, The Daily Meal