School Cafeteria Food Makeovers You Should Work Back into Your Adult Diet

It is back to school time for just about everyone now, which also has me thinking about all my first days of school and how we ate in school. I was a public school kid. Some kids had bag lunches they brought from home but most kids were ‘hot lunch kids’ and we ate what the school made us for lunch each day.

Some days were obviously better than others. I think in just about every school’s pizza day was the favorite. Much of the food was lacking taste and some was even unidentifiable (like a block of ‘cheese’ that we cleverly found could also be used as a pencil eraser – more functional than tasty).

Here is a list of some old cafeteria staples that with a little grown up TLC can be updated to fit back into your grown up diet and provide lots of nourishment and maybe some fond memories.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

Peanut butter is a great source of protein. Jelly can now come in the form of fruit preserves and many have low sugar options. Use a whole wheat bread and make sure your Peanut Butter and Jelly are low in sugar and you can take a childhood treat and make it an easy lunch to go for grown ups too.

Square Pizzas

The pizzas don’t have to be square (but for some reason they were in elementary school) but pizza can be made healthier too. Purchase pre-made whole wheat dough or find an easy recipe for one. By making simple substitutions you can make your pizza so much better for you. Making your own pizza sauce is easier than you think or you can buy the pizza sauce. Be sure to compare labels to find a healthy pre-made pizza sauce. Use a low fat cheese. Load up your pizza with vegetables like spinach, olives, mushrooms, onions, peppers etc. You can easily get a whole vegetable serving on a slice or two.

Sloppy Joes

By again switching out a few ingredients you can make a healthy sloppy joe. I like this recipe on EatingWell. By using a whole wheat bun, lean ground beef and fresh tomatoes you can get the same taste but all grown up.

Fish Sticks

A sneaky way to mock the taste and texture of fried food is to use Panko. Even Martha Stewart is hip to this trick. Find a nice piece of white fish and try coating it in panko instead of frying it or using regular bread crumbs.


I have found for me one of the most important parts of sticking to a healthy diet is not starving myself and making sure to have healthy snacks always available. Some of my favorite snacks are flashbacks to my childhood snacks or cafeteria lunch sides. Here are a few snacks that easily mature into a healthy adult’s diet.


The two tricks to applesauce are watching the sugar in the applesauce you choose and try to eat enough that it is a full serving size of fruit. Applesauce is tasty, easy to take on the go and is healthy (as long as you watch the sugar content).

Chocolate Pudding and Jell-O

I don’t know when we got too old to eat Jell-O and chocolate pudding but we should stop that. Jell-O and pudding are easy to make and there are plenty of sugar free and light options.

Chocolate Milk

A small serving size of skim chocolate milk is a great snack. Milk can make you feel full, has lots of vitamins your body needs and chocolate is always a great treat.

As schools start up everywhere, I hope I have given you a few ideas on how you can take some nostalgic cafeteria lunches and put them back into your healthy adult lifestyle!

Amanda O’Brien is originally from Peaks Island, Maine and currently works at Hall Web Services managing their inbound marketing team. She is a self proclaimed workaholic who tries to maintain a busy lifestyle. She is an amateur yogi and runner. Amanda contributes regularly to the Guiding Stars Blog.