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Foul Cafeteria Food

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Never trust food handed out by Sal Monella.
Kim: Did you analyze the gravy sample?
Wade: Yep.
Kim: And?
Wade: You don't want to know... until after graduation... from college.

So it's just another school day. The protagonist and his friends are talking in the hallways after class when all of a sudden the bell rings. Uh oh — it's lunchtime.

That means that the entire school will be subjected to eating whatever the creepy lunch lady gives out, whether it be Mystery Meat, a Mess on a Plate, a Masochist's Meal, or something even worse. But hey, If It Tastes Bad, It Must Be Good for You!

This trope is usually played two ways: Either for comedy to relate to kids, or for horror if the food is made out of people. However, this trope is mostly used in media for kids, so expect it to be for comedy.

This trope is often associated with Sucky Schools and Lethal Chef lunch ladies. May be accompanied with a Stock "Yuck!" when played for comedy. If the cafeteria food being disgusting is actually a hoax, then see Put Off Their Food. This trope can be extended to military mess halls and summer camps.

Anime will be just the opposite of this trope—most anime that deal with schooling will portray school cafeterias with a quite high standard of food—and often at least one item so good that students have to race to get there before it sells out.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Make My Day. The convict workers on the transport to their Deadly Environment Prison have to listen to (and of course, ignore) a propagandist information film on the planet they are going to. There's a bit that talks about how good the food is, but when it's actually served we hear from their complaints that it's awful. Then prison work is suspended for the day because of a crisis and they're told they can't even have that if they're not working.

    Comic Books 
  • In The Beano and its TV show Dennis and Gnasher Unleashed, everyone hates Olive's school dinners. The Olive from the Dennis cartoon is actually a different character than the one from the Bash Street Kids strip in the Beano comic — the comic nowadays uses both Olives, and both are as bad as each other.

    Comic Strips 
  • Big Nate: PS38's cafeteria food tastes terrible. It appears to be a grey-brown puddle of liquid, but what it is is unknown, as its smell and taste are unrecognizable.
    Nate: Are you sure this is even food?
    Teddy: That question has been asked many times.
  • Usually discussed in Calvin and Hobbes by Calvin whenever he tries to gross Susie out at lunch. However, there is a strip that depicts a part of Calvin's cafeteria food as a gooey, revolting pile of tapioca that makes Calvin imagine it being a blob monster that eats Spaceman Spiff alive.
  • The French Foreign Legion parody Crock had the cook serving out the food with a loud SLOP! When asked what he's serving, the cook retorts: "What did it sound like?"
  • FoxTrot: The horrible cafeteria food at Peter and Paige's high school is a running gag. Paige once received a plate of food where the macaroni and cheese was purple, the broccoli was orange, and the blueberry cobbler was green, there's apparently no refrigerator in the kitchen since the meatballs in red sauce they serve on Monday have turned into meatballs in fuzzy green sauce by Thursday, and don't be fooled if you see STEAK on the menu because it's actually Squid Tentacles, Eggplant, and Ketchup. One strip had the menu claiming that they were serving "pasta with white sauce". When Paige asked why it appeared to be red sauce, the server explained that "Nadine had a small accident slicing the meat."
  • Shoe has Skyler in line at his school's cafeteria, wondering what they'll serve him. Skyler notes that the day is a Thursday. A scoop drops an off-white, gooey lump onto his tray, at which Skyler observes: "Of course, Cream of Tuesday."
  • The military mess version is seen with Egon in Beau Peep. His food is so horrible that Peep has been known to eat non-food items under the impression that it's just slightly worse than usual.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: The cafeteria fare in "The School" is described as being horrific, made worse by the fact that the lunch lady on duty picks her nose. At the end, she decides she's better off bringing her noon repast from home in a brown bag.
    when the cafeteria is hash-luscious
    the potatoes are all fake
    the sun glints off the moldy peas
    through slabs of raisin cake
  • Karma Circle: Judgement: During her confrontation with Daniel in the cafeteria, Gaz threatens to drop a spoonful of mashed potatoes on him. This doesn't seem all that threatening until she lets him go and tosses them over her shoulder, and they hit Zita in the face, making her fall over screaming as she breaks out in strangely colored boils.
  • A Running Gag in Maris Stella is that, despite Akimoto Academy's strides in overcoming all the other problems that plague the rest of the school system, even they seem entirely incapable of making school lunch taste good. A few characters cite self-contradictory nutritional requirements as the culprit.
  • Sincere Deceit: An Elsen worker in Gaius' factory complains about the food they sell there, which contains edible plastic.
    I'll be honest with you. I hate the food here. The sandwiches they serve are soggy and taste like they've been sitting out for hours. I wouldn't eat them even if they paid me to.

    Films — Animation 
  • Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie: The cafeteria leftovers equate to toxic waste, which is enough to power a Humongous Mecha. It's also what gives Captain Underpants his superpowers when he gets dunked in it.
  • Monsters University: In one scene, a cafeteria worker is seen dumping the lunchroom trash right back into the place in which food is served. This is somewhat played with, though, considering all of the characters in the movie are monsters and this could be perfectly normal for them.
  • Recess: Taking the Fifth Grade: In the first part of "No More School", one of the problems is that the new cafeteria menu is practically inedible.
  • Titan A.E. has Cale Tucker and Tek sit down for lunch break at Tau Station's mess hall. Lunch that day is an alien version of spaghetti and meatballs: the spaghetti is long green strands of seaweed, and the meatballs are tiny, pale critters with all their limbs sliced off. The meatballs hop around on the plates in a desperate effort to escape. Cale comments: "I just wish they'd kill my food before I eat it."
  • In the Novelization of Turning Red, there is mention of two people coming down with food poisoning after eating suspicious cafeteria nachos.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Billy Madison has a scene where, while Billy is in elementary school, the lunch lady walks around the cafeteria ladling sloppy joe meat onto each student's plates.
    Lunch Lady: Have some more sloppy joes! I made 'em extra sloppy for yous! I know how yous kids like 'em sloppy!
    Billy: Lady, you're scaring us.
  • The "Hot Lunch" jam from the first Fame movie implies that the song's subject, Sadie the serving lady, does this on the regular. One of her famous dishes is simply "blue", which could be a stew but no one knows for sure. The rest is things like tuna fish and macaroni and bologna.
  • In Disney's The Game Plan, quarterback Joe Kingman (Dwayne Johnson) makes his long-lost daughter Peyton (Madison Pettis) a protein shake for breakfast, which consists of raw eggs and tuna for protein. As she sniffs the shake, she immediately pulls back, plugs her nose with her fingers, and quips "Ew, that smells worst than school food!"
  • The League of Gentlemen. In order to steal weapons from an army training camp, the robbers do the Surprise Inspection Ruse, claiming that the area commander has received complaints about the food. The commanding officer runs about in a panic trying to get everything shipshape for his arrival, and orders the cook to take tinned fruit from the officer's mess and serve it up to the troops. After he leaves, the cook says he shouldn't get excited as the stuff was probably tinned for the Boer War. During the inspection Padre (posing as the area commander) trolls Hyde and Race (posing as his adjutants) by ordering them to sample the cookhouse food. From the expressions on their faces, it's not very appetizing.
  • Discussed in Michael Moore's documentary Where To Invade Next. He goes to a French school cafeteria and is amazed at how they're serving dishes that would be considered haute cuisine in America, including scallops, and wonders why American schools don't serve anything that delectable.

  • Adrian Mole: In Growing Pains, Adrian laments that school dinners have become complete crap, possibly because Margaret Thatcher wants all the pupils to be too weak to protest in years to come.
  • Babel, or the Necessity of Violence: Wealthy, prestigious institution or not, the cafeteria food at Oxford's University College tends towards "tough boiled meat, unsalted roast vegetables, and indistinguishable pottages". It's an endless source of offense to Ramy, a Calcutta native who remembers real seasoning.
  • The Babysitters Club: It's a minor running gag that Stoneybrook Middle School serves wretched food in the cafeteria. Kristy in particular is prone to inventing elaborate comparisons for it, such as suggesting that something tastes like a gym sock that has been left in the rain and then stored in a locker for weeks. At no time are we told what the food in question actually is.
  • Captain Underpants:
    • The Adventures of Captain Underpants: George and Harold make a comic about the lunch being so disgusting that it comes alive and chooses to be evil.
    • Captain Underpants and the Attack of the Talking Toilets: The way George and Harold get rid of some of the talking toilets is by feeding them tomorrow's lunch, which is so revolting it kills them.
    • Captain Underpants and the Invasion of the Incredibly Naughty Cafeteria Ladies from Outer Space (and the Subsequent Assault of the Equally Evil Lunchroom Zombie Nerds): George and Harold make yet another joke at the cafeteria ladies' expense in a comic book, involving them being locked in the school for a weekend and then found dead on Monday due to being forced to eat their own food. After they quit, they're replaced by three aliens disguising themselves as humans in order to become lunch ladies, where they put Evil Zombie Nerd Milkshakes on the menu to turn the kids into evil zombie nerds.
  • Dear Dumb Diary: The school meatloaf is derided as some of the most disgusting food out there, but the lunch monitor Miss Bruntford always makes the kids eat it anyway. However, when she tries it herself in "Am I the Princess or the Frog?", she gets sick and shouts for the kids to call 911, putting her out of commission for a while.
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Old School: When Greg arrives at Hardscrabble Farms, he learns that the food he's given is not only disgusting (one kid got a pancake as stiff as a board), but it's also recycled from past meals. So really, it's anyone's guess how far some of the food actually dates.
  • Dirty Bertie: The students, with the exception of Bertie, are often heard complaining about the food the cafeteria serves, particularly the rice pudding. The chef's name is even Mrs. Mould (though, despite her name, she never seems to serve moldy food). In "Burp!", she gets temporarily replaced with Miss Beansprout, who serves salad and carrot cake, which all of the students hate.
  • Discworld:
    • In Soul Music, Susan has a Klatchian takeaway and is surprised by how different it is from the unpleasant green curry they serve at school.
    • Implied with the Watch canteen in Feet of Clay: Mrs Palm starts off by expressing surprise the Watch house even has luxuries like a canteen, then as they enter, she trails off and replaces this thought with "People eat in here?"
    • In Moving Pictures, the cast and crew of “clicks” are subjected to this as a result of Dibbler not wanting to spend any more money than he has to. To the point where when a Troll asks Victor “You’re made of meat and what do you eat?” Victor says “Good question!”
  • In Horrible Histories: Disgusting Digestion, Private Eye M.I. Gutzache's second mission is to investigate the school kitchen, which regularly produces mystery soup, chips that are so oily they cause an oil slick in your stomach, peas that bend the tines of forks, and a potato that had a slug in itnote .
  • The novelisation of The Three Doctors shows even The Brigadier is not above making the obligatory joke about in which war the rations in UNIT HQ were canned. But it's not like they have much choice as the only food in Omega's realm is what's been transported there along with the building.
  • Inside Series: The cafeteria food for the scrubs is described as green-, yellow- or brown-colored slop that smells like moldy vegetables.
  • Jacob Two-Two's First Spy Case: A new Evil Principal replaces the kindly cafeteria chef at Jacob's school with Perfectly Loathsome Leo Louse, whose catering ranges from "watered-down ketchup soup" to "literally sawdust". It's ostensibly a cost-saving measure, but Jacob catches them embezzling the extra cash.
  • Matilda: Lampshaded by Miss Trunchbull, when she accuses Bruce Bogtrotter of stealing her own cake, as opposed to the food given to the children.
    Miss Trunchbull: You don't think for one minute I am going to eat the filth I give to you? My cake was made from real butter, and real cream!
  • Implied in Mitch and Amy, as the title characters refer to their school's cafeteria (or as the book calls it, the 'cafetorium'note ) as the Ickitorium. No details are provided about exactly what makes the food there so icky, however.
  • The workhouse in Oliver Twist when poor hungry Oliver is beaten for asking for more of the vile gruel served there.
  • In ''The Scholomance'’ the food in the school cafeteria is not only disgusting, it may be literally poisonous and/or concealing monsters that want to eat you. And the kids can’t go home for dinner. They’re stuck in the school till they graduate.
  • Miss Mush, the school cook from the Wayside School series, often creates truly inexplicable dishes for the students, although it's stated that her food is only foul when she has to cook in large volumes. When cooking for one or two people, her meals reach Supreme Chef levels.
  • Downplayed, but still very much present in Super Powereds. The bad cafeteria food is somewhat of a Running Gag, as every time the characters eat in the cafeteria either they or the narrative will get creative in describing how unappetizing the food is.
  • Usually averted in the Whateley Universe (as Whateley Academy is seen as something of a proving ground for serious chefs, given the number of demanding, well-heeled students and the sheer volume needed), but it rears its head during the renovation of Crystal Hall (the usual cafeteria), as the staff have to cope with the smaller, run-down kitchen in Dunn Hall. While most of the students don't complain too much, some - most notably Phase - are at their wits' end due to the poor food.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: When Buffy gains telepathy and overhears a plan to kill everyone at the school, Xander quips that the lunch lady was going to kill them all with her Mulligan stew. Turns out, she really was.
  • Community: A general consensus that chicken fingers, which always run out, are the only edible food the school cafeteria serves leads the study group to create a crime family centered around the chicken fingers. (The episode is largely a parody of Goodfellas.)
  • Deep Space Nine. In "The Way of the Warrior", Quark shows off his disrupter from when he served on a Ferengi freighter.
    Odo: I thought you were the ship's cook?
    Quark: That's right—and every member of that crew thought he was a food critic.
  • Doctor Who: Double Subversion in "School Reunion". The chipsnote  in the canteen are noted to actually be pretty tasty. But they are revealed to be covered in Krillitane oil, secreted by mutated alien creatures, which makes the kids (and Rose) temporarily hyper-intelligent as part of a plot to crack a reality-altering equation.
  • M*A*S*H: The mess hall at the 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital was known for its horrible cuisine, from the first season to the last.
    • In one early episode Hawkeye protests the endless repetition of food, when he's told that once again the choices are liver or fish, saying he'd eaten a river of liver and an ocean of fish.
    • A running gag that started in season 4 was Hawkeye sniffing his food, then describing what it smelled like to BJ Hunnicutt. BJ would tell him — sometimes politely, sometimes not — to knock it off.
    • Winchester, in one of his earliest encounters with the mess hall, asks if there are any green vegetables. He's told there's some lettuce, but that the rats had a go at it first. Winchester's reply says it all:
      Winchester: Corporal, you have made me lose my appetite and I... am grateful!
    • Radar brings Col. Potter a meal from the mess hall. He asks what it is, and when Radar tells him, he replies, "Take it away. I sent this dinner back two wars ago."
    • In one episode, Hawkeye is helping with the kitchen and decides that he's going to treat the camp to french toast for breakfast. He begins to recite the recipe to the cook, milk, eggs, etc. The cook pulls out a huge vat and dumps powdered milk in it, then powdered eggs, then begins to hydrate the mixture with water from a hose before dumping in whole loaves of sliced bread. Hawk can barely hide his disappointment and disgust.
    • Father Mulcahy spends one episode growing corn in a garden, and turns the fully grown ears of corn over to the cook, anticipating the mouth-watering delight of corn on the cob. To Mulcahy's horror and incense, the cook creamed the corn. It was so egregious, the normally kind and cheerful Mulcahy calls the cook a "ninny".
    • The food was also served in the early seasons to show another way Radar was a little weirdo: he loves the stuff and usually piles his plate high with mess hall food. Even after Character Development, this habit stuck until he left the show.
    • One episode centered around an aversion: as thanks for saving his life and revenge against the general who nearly got him killed, a supply officer arranged for the food earmarked for the general's headquarters to be sent to the 4077th and vice versa. Much of the episode centers around the doctor's efforts to get the roast thawed out, cooked and served before the MPs the general had sent out to track down his dinner arrived. They show up just as everyone is sitting down for dinner, so Colonel Potter invites them to help the 4077th Eat the Evidence.
    • Played for laughs in the series finale, when the cook announces that he's going to take his experiences home — and become a pig farmer, so that no one will complain about what he feeds them anymore.
  • Monk: In "Mr. Monk Goes Back to School," Monk becomes a substitute at a school following a murder case. In the cafeteria, the lunch lady serves brown slop described as "vegetarian lasagna."
    Monk: From where I'm standing, that almost looks like food.
  • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: In the intro, Ned specifically lists the gross lunches as one of the worst things about his school. This is exaggerated when he stabs his food with a fork, causing it to spring to life and crawl out of his plate.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures: In "Revenge of the Slitheen'', Maria and Clyde notice the food at their new school is moldy. The principal's response when Clyde complains? "Just pick the bad bits off." Subverted in that this is meant to be a sign that something is wrong, not accepted as the norm. This is because the school part of the Slitheen's plot to drain Earth of its energy — the hidden transducers cause cellular decay in organic matter, making the food go bad faster than normal.
  • In one of the weirdest examples of this trope, the students from Saved by the Bell prefer to eat food at their Local Hangout, The Max, instead of their cafeteria, with Jessie even quipping, "It's nice being able to eat a burger you don't have to comb." However, since they are never seen paying for the food, one can logically assume that the food is free (or is at least for the six main characters).
  • Superhuman Samurai Sybersquad: It's a running gag that the lunch lady made terrible food. When the principal reverted to his old hippie persona, he rallied the students to protest suffering, to which one student suggested protesting the cafeteria.

  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's first song to get national airplay on Dr. Demento's show was "School Cafeteria" in 1976.
    My ice cream sandwich is lukewarm
    But my burrito is much too cold
    A school cafeteria is the only place
    That sells artificially colored mold
  • Adam Sandler's "Lunch Lady Land" invokes this trope from the perspective of the food.
    Well I dreamt one morning that I woke up to see
    All the pepperoni pizza was a-lookin' at me
    It screamed "Why do you burn me and serve me up cold"
    I said "I got the spatula, just do what you're told"

  • In the children's poem Meatloaf?, a young boy is served meatloaf by his lunch lady, but it's so badly cooked, he initially doesn't know what he is, and he fears that if he ate it, he'd get sick.
  • In the poetry anthology Poisoned Apples: Poems for You, My Pretty, the poem "Human Centipede One" mentions burgers drenched in "suspicious fluid."

    Tabletop Games 
  • It's not a school, but in Paranoia, being served artificially-produced slop in cafeterias is one of the many horrors suffered by low-caste citizens of Alpha Complex. (Conversely, one of the major perks of achieving promotion is getting progressively better food.)
  • Teenagers from Outer Space plays this for laughs. To quote the book: "Faced with dozens of species of aliens from a wide variety of planets and dietary needs, the school cafeteria implemented a revolutionary idea: They kept serving the same food as before. After all, it wasn't meant for human consumption, anyway."

    Video Games 
  • Demon Legacy: The food in the Ragan hotel is really bad, according to Sharn and Iris, the former of whom compares it to prison food.
    Sharn: If you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from the ham-hawks.
    Slade: What’s a Ham-Hawk?
    Sharn: I don’t know, and I don’t want to find out.
    Iris: This “loaf of meat” as they called it is more like a brick.
  • Nickelodeon Clickamajigs: In "Chef's Mystery Special", you tap each student's tray as they walk by to give them their lunch. Every meal is completely disgusting and inedible, but the students just get scowled at when they whine.
  • Scribblenauts Unlimited: In Inkwell High, one objective has the lunch lady ask you to put an ingredient in her pot. No matter what you give her, the student who eats the meal she prepares instantly becomes sick and falls to the floor.
  • The Spellcasting Series: Nobody at Sorcerer's U eats the cafeteria food if they can help it. In the second game, the casserole which has been generally untouched for days can be used as a source of firefly larva (apparently part of the recipe) and squirrel vomit (produced by trying to feed the casserole to a squirrel), which are needed for puzzle solutions.
  • Spiritfarer: The cafeteria at the run-down hospital at Overbrook serves what looks like brown sludge on a tray. One patient mentions that it looks like "food from yesterday"... not as in the food looks old, but that it looks like it's already been eaten.
  • Wanted: Dead: There's a dedicated cutscene showing Hannah's displeasure with the food at the police HQ cafeteria, such as the gelatine being so sticky it gets stuck on her spoon.

    Web Animation 
  • SagaTheYoungin: In "Public School Cafeteria Food", Saga talks about his public school cafeteria food. And trust us, it was disgusting. For example, the burger buns had spots that were soggy and stale at the same time.

     Western Animation 
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: In "Revenge of the Nanobots" the Nanobots notice that the lunch lady is cooking a "tasteless chipped beef special" which they flag as an error. They have a disagreement over whether to add steak sauce or spicy mustard which ultimately leads one of them to throw in an old shoe. Doing so makes the lady remark "But I already made shoe twice this week!"
  • Arthur: While Lakewood Elementary's cafeteria usually averts this, in "The Great MacGrady", when the lunch lady, Mrs. MacGrady was Out Sick (specifically with cancer), and her nephew, Skip, who was her substitute, served food that looked and smelled bad and tasted bland.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door: Exaggerated in "Operation F.O.O.D.F.I.T.E.", when K.N.D. villain Grandmother Stuffum takes over the school cafeteria and creates living food monsters to force-feed Sector V into submission. These include curried rat and candied lizard.
  • Danny Phantom: In "Mystery Meat", Sam reveals that she convinced the school board to change the lunch menu to serve only "ultra-recyclo-vegetarian" food for a one-week trial, which mainly consists of grass on a bun. Nobody, not even the ghostly lunch lady, is happy with this change. A notable example, considering the food is a student's fault rather than the school's.
  • Fanboy and Chum Chum: In one episode, the duo and everyone else at school gets locked in the cafeteria by the lunch lady until every one of them ate her glob lunch.
  • Horrid Henry: Henry has been seen complaining about the canteen food from time to time and usually prefers having a packed lunch instead. In one episode, he is made to get school dinner, where he is served a red noodle-like food that he imagines being eaten by. Of course, it doesn't help that the dinner lady there is a sadistic and cruel woman who bans treats when she is told to watch over the packed lunchroom.
  • Invader Zim: The Skool's horrible cafeteria food is a Running Gag:
    • It's mentioned their less horrible food options are "ketchup and rice" day and "mayonnaise and corn" day.
    • During "Dark Harvest" Torque is sent to the Skool nurse with his liver missing and the nurse's assistant mentions it's a common reaction to the cafeteria food.
    • During "Dib's Wonderful Life of Doom", the stew of the day attacks a student and gives Zim retching fits.
    • In "Gaz: Taster of Pork", Gaz threatens Dib with shoving the Skool's mashed potatoes into his eyes, which had apparently previously been done to Zita and blinded her in the afflicted eye.
  • The poor quality of Middleton High's cafeteria food is a recurring joke in Kim Possible.
    • In one episode, Ron says to the cafeteria lady that he ordered ahead for the kosher meal. She dumps a spoonful of brownish-green slop on his tray instead.
    • In another episode, Ron is heading back for an extra serving of food because it's pizza day. Monique points out that it's cardboard cafeteria pizza.
      Ron: Cheese on cardboard is still cheese.
    • In another, Mr. Barkin explains why he's filling in for the class' regular teacher:
      Barkin: I regret to inform you that Ms. Jenkins made a mistake many first-year teachers make. She ate the cafeteria meatloaf.
      [class reacts with horror]
  • Invoked in the The Loud House episode "Diss the Cook". Chef Pat, the cook of Royal Woods Middle School, has a grudge against Rita Loud, so in retaliation, up until the events of that episode, she's been subjecting Rita's kids to disgusting or subpar food while serving normal food to the rest of the school's students.
  • Played with in My Gym Partner's a Monkey. Adam Lyon, the Token Human student at Charles Darwin Middle School, finds the cafeteria food appalling since it literally contains things like bugs (hence why he always brings his own lunch to school), but his animal schoolmates enjoy it. However, Adam eventually finds out that the cafeteria food from his old school wasn't much better.
  • In the Ozzy & Drix episode "Gas of Doom", the cafeteria food at Hector's school all looks like piles of brown slop with beans. When Hector sees the meatballs and the macaroni and cheese, he questions how the two foods can look exactly the same. Then there's the cafeteria's infamous twelve-bean casserole which has the same slop with beans as the rest of the cafeteria food. Hector actually enjoys it, but he later finds out that it is almost a year past its expiration date and suffers such a bad gas build-up that it threatens to give him gastroenteritis. Hector's project for the science fair consists of determining which cafeteria foods his dog Uno is willing to eat. Uno is unwilling to eat any of them.
  • Mentioned/implied in the Ready Jet Go! episode "Pet Sounds". After eating a dog treat, Jet quips that it still tastes better than the school cafeteria food on Bortron 7.
  • Recess:
    • In the pilot episode, one of the cafeteria foods, "Tomato Surprise", is an acid that is so strong that it melts a spoon (and is later used by Gretchen to melt the hinges of a door). T.J. also mentions that they've previously been fed fish sticks made out of cardboard and macaroni and cheese stuck together with paste. This prompts T.J. to break into the kitchen to find the good food, and he finds a fridge full of it. However, when he touches the handles of the fridge, an alarm sounds and he gets caught by Ms. Finster, followed by him having lunch detention.
    • In "Chez Vince," the cafeteria serves liver dogs and nasty blue-green spinach substitute. When Vince tells the lunch ladies what he thinks of their food, they respond with a Let's See YOU Do Better! challenge, which leads Vince to discover his outstanding talent for cooking.
    • The Halloween Episode has a Call-Back to the pilot: T.J, and Gretchen use the ultra-acidic Tomato Surprise to melt an army of zombies.
  • The pilot episode of The Shivering Truth has the lunch lady use a blind girl's welt to make cafeteria food. May we remind you, this is the pilot.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In befitting the Sucky School status of Springfield Elementary, the food served there is disgusting. This includes beef hearts, horse testicles, and shredded newspapers. "Treehouse of Horror V" had the cafeteria serve the students themselves to solve the issue of overcrowding in the detention room. Half of it seems to be down to Lunch Lady Doris' strange nutritional beliefs ("More testicles means more iron.") and half of it down to the school's razor-thin budget ("There's very little meat in these gym mats.").
    • Played with in "Father Knows Worst", where Homer starts eating only cafeteria food because, after an accident turns his taste buds hyper-sensitive, the extreme blandness of said food is the only thing he can tolerate.
  • Sym-Bionic Titan: In "The Phantom Ninja", after seeing the grotesque food served at the school with 1% content of meat, Ilana and Octus host a food party at the school for a chance to change the menu. At first, nobody is interested in attending, until they find out Lance will be there.
  • Total Drama: The food served by Chef at Camp Wawanakwa's mess hall is an unidentifiable white glop. Occasionally, extra "ingredients" go flying into the pot, to which Chef shrugs and just keeps cooking. An "Ask Chef" segment implies that Chef is given substandard ingredients on purpose, likely to keep the contestants as miserable as the network can get away with.

    Real Life 
  • In September 2021, it became a trend to record videos of disgusting school lunches. Some of these videos addressed moldy food and expired milk. Unsurprisingly, this sparked controversy in New Jersey.
  • This has long been Truth in Television, as schools historically served food based on its price rather than its taste or nutritional value. Thus, cafeteria food was cheap, institutional stuff that wasn't very expensive, arrived pre-cooked and frozen, and got heated in large batches, then sat on a warmer as students shuffled through the lines. Recent decades have seen efforts to improve the nutritional quality and taste of school lunches across numerous countries, but how effective they've been has varied considerably.
  • In 2014, US public schools started revising school lunch menus to meet the new nutritional standards set by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, whose passing was credited to First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity campaign. Unfortunately, owing to a lack of resources and/or indifferent cooks, many of those new lunches did not look—or taste—very good, and disgruntled students took to posting photos of them on Twitter with the hashtag #thanksmichelleobama.


Video Example(s):


Zombie Unit Cafeteria

Hannah attempts to eat in the precinct cafeteria, only for the food to be comically awful.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / FoulCafeteriaFood

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