Cafeteria Food: Friend of Foe?

While schools are supposed to provide well-balanced meals, the question is whether or not they are actually healthy. I remember having fries with my pizza or burgers, while the soda machines were calling my name. Salads were also provided, but they were usually pitifully small side salads. I remember Ranch, French, and Italian dressings, and I remember dumping a lot on my salad. In today’s schools, you don’t have to do much to stand out at lunchtime—all you have to do is eat a healthy lunch.

Even though avoiding the greasy food is a good start, it isn’t enough to assume that just because a food sounds healthy, it is. What really gets me today is that many people seem to think a salad is healthy, but they may be fooling themselves. Lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, and broccoli are all healthy choices on your salad. But when you add bacon, croutons, and salad dressing, everything changes. A normal serving of dressing is usually 2 TBSP, but most of us end up putting two or three times that on our salads. Take, for example, Hidden Valley Ranch – the original, light, and fat-free versions. Just by looking at the nutrition facts, you can see the difference. If you’re adding more than 2 TBSP to your salad, the calories can really add up. It’s not just what you eat that you have to watch, it’s also how much you eat. If you’re not sure how much 2 TBSP is, measure it out.

Based on the above chart, if you were to eat a salad with the usual amount of dressing (which is typically 2 or 3 times the serving size), you would be consuming up to 420 calories—just from the dressing on your “healthy” salad!

By simply switching to the light or fat-free versions of salad dressings, you can save yourself a lot of calories. But if you don’t like these versions, there is something else you can do. Have your salad dressing on the side and dip the salad into it; you’ll use a lot less that way. You could also try out much healthier dressings like vinaigrette’s or olive oils. If you have any questions about the nutrition facts of something, you can look it up.

Another major calorie trap is the soda and snack machines placed throughout the building. Schools have these machines for one reason– they make money. The net gross profit of a soda machine is $4,082, and $3,276 for a snack machine.

These machines don’t usually provide healthy choices because the companies wouldn’t make as much money but there is a big difference between the sugar and calories in a regular soda and a diet soda. This chart compares a regular Sprite and a low-cal Sprite Zero:

The easiest way to compare two food choices is too look at the nutrition facts. Manufacturers are required to have a nutrition label on their food products.

Your best bet is to ignore the percent daily values – they provide an idea about how much you eat of a particular nutrient, but unless you are eating ~2000 calories a day, your percent daily values will be slightly different. What you really need to pay attention to is the serving size. The serving size refers to how big the portion is that the manufacturer is providing the nutrition facts for. Often there is also a “servings” category that tells you how many of the serving-size portion there is in the package or container.

For every unhealthy food that you eat, there are likely to be other equally nutritious foods that will satisfy your hunger, and craving, with fewer calories. A good goal is to gradually change your diet to include more nutritious and filling foods and less unhealthy and unsatisfying foods. Make a statement at your school by teaching your friends about taking care of your body, the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19).

By Megan Skinner


  1. I didn’t realize how many calories are in salad dressing. Thanks for the information. I feel like we’re on the road to healthfullness together, and I can’t wait to see what you write about in September!

  2. You said that ” the net gross profit of a soda machine is $4,082, and $3,276 for a snack machine.” is that for one month, one year, or is it for a couple of years?

  3. Megan Skinner says

    Sorry for the confusion; it’s the net gross profit for one year.

Speak Your Mind