11 Things I Learned When I Asked Teachers About the Cafeteria Food at Their School

Apparently I’m missing an important ingredient in my tuna sandwiches.

Paired image to illustrate teachers talking about the cafeteria food at their school

Earlier this week, I asked teachers to share their favorite and least favorite cafeteria foods. I thought I could anticipate the responses I’d get. Favorite: rectangle pizza. Worst: turkey tetrazzini.

My friends, I walked away with a wealth of culinary knowledge I could have never anticipated.

11 Things I Learned When I Asked Teachers About the Cafeteria Food at their School

1. I added four new foods to my vocabulary: cowboy bread, Johnny Marzetti, Bosco sticks, and cheese zombies.

“Best is Bosco sticks! I still often buy these as a teacher.”

—Tiffany J.

“The worst was this mess called Johnny Marzetti, which was some bizarro macaroni and red sauce that was just disgusting. I realize this makes absolutely NO sense at all, but it was a truth when I was a kid.”


—Michele Q.

“Best: homemade rolls and honey butter. Cowboy bread, pizza.”

—Vickie G.

“Cheese zombies are the best.”

—Wendy B.

If you’re curious about any of these, here’s the 411 on cowboy bread, Johnny Marzetti (very close to American goulash, American chop suey, or slumgullion), Bosco sticks, and cheese zombies.

2. Many teachers can remember a time when schools had the funding for from-scratch cooking.

“Back in the days when the head cook and her crew cooked from scratch, every meal was good. Real chicken breast, real potatoes and gravy, spaghetti with meat sauce. So many meals were good.”

—Deanna L.

“When I was a kid, and the cafeterias actually cooked instead of reheating, the lunch ladies made the best chicken a la king I have ever tasted! Their biscuits were wonderful, too!”

—Ruth A.

3. Chili and cinnamon rolls are a common combination.

“I loved chili and cinnamon rolls in school.”

—Mary M.

4. And y’all. People LOVE their cafeteria cinnamon rolls.

“Back in the day, we had homemade cinnamon rolls on the day we had chili and cheese toast. The whole school would smell like a bakery!!”

—Wanda S.

5. Universal winners: grilled cheese sandwiches, turkey gravy with mashed potatoes, and Tater Tot casserole.

“Best is turkey in gravy with mashed potatoes.”

—Kristi V.

“Best food I didn’t appreciate until I became an adult: Tater Tot casserole. De-licious!”

—Sandra Y.

“A school grilled cheese sandwich is the absolute best!”

—Zia M.

6. Undisputed school lunch loser: fish in all forms.

“The worst was fish sticks ”

—Laura S.

“Fish is the worst!!”

—Lisa M.

7. I am missing an important ingredient in my tuna sandwiches.

“We used to have the most delicious tuna sandwiches. They’d even write it on the staff board when that day was coming as we teachers would buy lunch that day. They just brought them back. Need to ask if it’s the same recipe (secret ingredient: ranch dressing).”

—Tammy A.

8. The U.K. is doing lunch right.

(Or at least one school in the U.K.)

“Every day is a good day in our canteen. Home-cooked meals, filling, nutritious, packed with veg, tasty: pulled pork BBQ tacos, roast dinners, katsu curry, hunter’s chicken, sausage and chips, lasagne, spicy pasta, baked potatoes, banoffee pie, crumble, cheesecake. We’re very lucky. Loads of staff eat there every day.”

—Vicky G., Nottinghamshire, U.K.

9. Apparently no one else knows the lunchtime magic of a Crispito besides me and one other teacher.

“Crispito with chili is the best.”

—Mandy M.

I couldn’t believe there weren’t more Crispito fans out there. FYI, it’s a giant deep-fried burrito, and it’s incredible.

10. Cafeteria workers used to be able to (and sometimes still do!) spoil teachers.

“My school used to have an amazing cafeteria manager. When it got cold outside, she’d make a batch of oatmeal from scratch every day and serve it with brown sugar and real butter, just for the teachers. She didn’t last long because she snuck flavor into the food and made changes they didn’t like, but we all loved her.”

—Amy K.

“We have two lunch periods at our school, and I lucked out to be on second lunch. When the cooks overestimate the amount of food to cook, they sometimes bring us teachers the extras. Today: chicken nuggets and tater tots. Last week, pizza. Usually it is pretty good.”

—Donna M.

11. Many people reported some kind of outstanding peanut butter dessert.

“Sandy Creek Central School used to have this peanut butter whip for dessert with a chocolate drizzle on the top. It was so delicious that I asked the cafeteria manager for the recipe when I left. Yum!”

—Colleen M.

“Many, many years ago, we had the best peanut butter dainties.”

—Jo C.

“At Monroe High, they used to make full sheets of peanut butter cake. Had a little glaze on top. My teacher buddy and I used to love it with our coffee. Wish I had the recipe.”

—David W.

Anyone have the inside scoop on the peanut butter dessert recipes? I need them. It’s for science.

How do you feel about the cafeteria food at your school? Let us know in the comments.

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I asked teachers about the cafeteria food at their school, and let's just say I learned a LOT. (P.S. Have you had cowboy bread?)