HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


School Lunch favorites

What was your favorite school lunch as a kid? Mine was something called "Meat Gravy Over Mashed Potatoes" and basically it was ground beef in gravy served over instant mashed potatoes. I also liked the chili that they served because my fussy eater mother never made anything so exotic like that at our house. I was kind of a food nerd, because I was the only kid in the school that would eat some of the vegetables that were served, like spinach and beets. I didn't like the pizza, which was served weekly. That was something that all the kids loved, but not me. We had the stereotypical lunch lady named Mrs. Perry she had her hair dyed about the same color as the background of this chowhound frame and wore a pink hairnet and orthopedic shoes and cateye glasses. She was, true to form, mean and hated children, but she took a liking to me because of my love for spinach and beets and always gave me extra vegetables, no charge.

Anyway, my son currently loves a dish they serve at his school called "Cheesy Taco Mac". My understanding is that it is like macaroni and cheese with taco meat in it. I tried a recipe from Velveeta, and he rejected it outright. Anyone have a good recipe for it?


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The one dish that sticks out is the school cafeteria Apple Crisp. It came in this cardboard container with shrink wrap over it and it was served cold. I have no idea why I liked it...I mean it was basically cold oatmeal with apple pie filling.

    The Cheesy Taco Mac dish sounds interesting, sorry I don't have it but I'm sure someone here does :) I know I could use some new dishes for my daughter's lunch box.

    1. I think we could all use some new lunch box ideas. I know I am running low on imagination right now.

      1. I think I replied to a similar post on an earlier thread.

        My fave school cafeteria foods in the 50s and 60s included bierocks, "chop suey", meat gravy over mash (just like you!), meatloaf, and--the best--enchiladas.

        2 Replies
          1. re: karykat

            German (runzas) or polish origin, kind of related to a Cornish pastie--a hand-held dinner pie. Bread dough filled with sauerkraut or shredded cabbage, chopped onion, and ground meat. Spiced with salt and black pepper. Baked, rectangular.

        1. Wouldn't the school have to tell you, as a parent concerned about what her child is eating, at least what's in the dish? Do they make it from scratch on site, or do they add a packet of taco flavoring/powder stuff. Then you could inquire about the brand so you could check out the ingredient list on line for sodium content or additives or whatever you want to tell them just to get the name. You could even ask what kind of cheese they use. With that info, I bet you could recreate it. Also, could you show up on the day they're serving it and buy a container, left-overs after the kids have eaten, and taste-test?

          I always brown-bagged it and only got to buy milk. I could tell mom was running out of ideas/staples when I got a cream cheese and jelly sandwich! My friends thought it was quite avant-garde, but I knew it was the desperation lunch and wasn't quite as enthusiastic about it!

          I think Martha Stewart's Web site has a forum for exactly this school lunch question.

          1 Reply
          1. re: nemo

            Good idea! I think the school orders this frozen from somewhere. I will check when school is back in session. But if anyone has a recipe, that would be terrific, too!

          2. my favorite school lunch day was macaroni and cheese with lil smokies. it only came w/ two lil smokies so i saved them till the very end...wow. i kinda miss that kind of portion control...:o)

            1 Reply
            1. re: soypower

              ooh...I forgot about Lil Smokies. Our school lunch didn 't have them, but we used to beg my mom for them. She wouldn't buy them, or any cereal like Sugar Corn Pops or Quisp like I wanted, either. Only cornflakes or shredded wheat at our house!

            2. What about something along these lines for the cheesy taco mac?


              It's similar to Cook Illustrated's Best Recipe mac and cheese which is very creamy and cheesy. I'm with your son on the Velveeta!

              1 Reply
              1. re: chowser

                Of course, real mac asnd cheese is divine, but adding taco meat to this recipe will make the cheese look like sludge - I've tried it. My son actually likes Velveeta on a grilled cheese sandwich, so that isn't the issue. Come to think of it, I like Velveeta on a grilled cheese myself. Thanks for the idea, though.

              2. Make a box of Kraft mac and cheese. Sautee a pound of ground beef and one chopped onion. Add a packet of taco seasoning. Stir everything together and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes.

                1. K-town High Pizza Pie at my first high school (Kaiserslautern American HS--go Raiders!). Don't know why we loved it so much--probably because pizza was still fairly exotic, but you had to get to the lunchroom early to get any.

                  Red beans & rice or po'boys on the infrequent occasions we had hot lunch at my second high school (Sacred Heart Girls Academy, Biloxi MS). I think we only had hot lunch on Fridays.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: coney with everything

                    Wow, you and I trod a similar path: Sacred Heart in Tokyo, school cafeteria at Lakenheath in England. It's nice to find another Brat on Chowhound. My worst chow experience along the way was food poisoning in England the day before my mother and I were due to go to Belgium to see the tulips. This was offset by amazing fresh pork and great local produce. I went to the U of MD in Munich my freshman year and was introduced to the wondrous flavors of Bavarian cooking. What great chow memories!

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      ludwigsburg elementary, munich elementary, landstuhl middle school, ramstein high, munich high, augsburg high, seoul american high.....

                      if i didn't bring a lunch i generally avoided eating at all. i remember being served a "goulasch" that was almost certaintly cans of chunky soup. and in germany, too, where you had easy access to good german-style goulasch!

                      in high school in seoul we had an open campus for lunch and...this makes me shudder a little bit...it was either burger king or popeye's everyday. or spicy shin instant bowl ramyon. i can't go anywhere NEAR a burger king now, but i do sneak down to popeye's once in awhile!

                      1. re: pikawicca

                        I think the brat experience either makes or breaks you as a chowhound. I remember going to London once on a class trip and the two kids I was hanging with insisted on eating at KFC or Wimpy burger (at the time, a chain of pseudo American food)! And many GI's stationed in Germany spent most of their time on base eating at the mess hall or snack bar, bitching about how much they missed the "real world".

                        But my mom, bless her heart, insisted that when we went places we would eat at least one famous local dish--French onion soup in Paris, pasta (like you could avoid it!) in Italy, schnitzel in Germany...and back in the States as well.

                        Wow, augustiner--you REALLY got around! I would have gone to Ramstein high if it had existed when I lived there, lived on base in bldg 848 (enlisted quarters)

                    2. Tater tots and pb&j. Never took to ketchup, but tater tots and a good dash of salt have always been a favorite.

                      1. My favorite was tater tots. The school somehow managed to make them both crispy and greasy, and I have never been able to duplicate that.

                        Cheesy Taco Mac sounds like Hamburger Helper--there's Cheesy Nacho and a Cheeseburger Macaroni styles that may be similar. My school cafeteria called this Texas Goulash, and I loved it too. Tried the HH box a few years ago in a burst of nostalgia, and all it tasted like to me was SALT

                        1. Our school system had a streamlined twist on a shepard's pie called "potato turbait". (Absolutely no idea where this name came from.) Essentially a seasoned ground beef with a cheesy mashed potato topping - kids loved it! The local "help" column in the newspaper still gets recipe requests from people trying to satisfy a 40 year graving for this stuff.
                          I also had a mother who made cream cheese & jelly for my lunch. But I really liked it - felt like I was cleverly eating dessert for my meal.

                          1. Links to old and new school lunch recipes:

                            The USDA school lunch recipes are for 50 and 100 servings,
                            and are in PDF format.
                            USDA School lunch recipes

                            Cheesy Taco Mac?
                            Ground Beef and Macaroni & Cheese (with Mexican Seasoning
                            )- USDA School lunch recipe

                            Chili con Carne with Beans - USDA School lunch recipe

                            Apple Crisp - USDA School lunch recipe

                            Meat Loaf - USDA School lunch recipe

                            Long Beach School District Pizza