School lunchPhoto courtesy Mrs. QTo understand the problem of school lunch in America, try the following experiment. Go to the supermarket and buy ingredients for a single meal for your family — or a group of friends. Limit yourself to 90 cents per person. If that sounds like too little, consider that it’s about what cafeteria administrators have to spend on the ingredients for kids’ lunches each day.

Cafeteria workers face another major challenge too: as many as half of all school cafeterias in America have no cooking equipment. Such “kitchens” are really reheating centers that no longer require skilled cooks–button-pushing clerks will do. 

And what kind of food are they churning out? Last fall, a teacher in a Midwestern school district decided to find out. Mrs. Q — she remains anonymous to avoid losing her job — is eating in her school’s cafeteria every day for the entire school year and documenting the experience, with snapshots. Her blog, Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project, provides a rare and often unpalatable window into what’s cooking in our public-school cafeterias–and we couldn’t resist sharing it with you. For this slide show, we lifted a few representative images and dsscriptions from Mrs. Q’s blog — with her permision, of course.

For more on the school lunch issue, see Grist’s extensive coverage of the topic, particularly Tom Philpott’s recent piece “Why even the childless should care about school lunches.”