How Brands Like Domino’s Profit From School Lunch

How Brands Like Domino’s Profit From School Lunch

We hear a lot about school lunches in America and the food itself doesn’t always get the best reputation When I think about school lunches I think of boiled hamburgers The cheese was always like plasticy The staler it was, the more delicious it was From Hollywood depictions to real-life memories, the school cafeteria is a quintessential part of American culture But who decides what food gets put on the tray and how come one school serves this on a dollar 25 budget while another serves this Why are teachers working at McDonald’s for a night and how does a slice of Domino’s Pizza meet USDA guidelines Those are all loaded questions with complicated answers but if you really boil it down the answer is money, lots and lots of
money Today the 4.9 billion lunches that get doled out in school cafeterias every year make up a multi-billion dollar industry that makes sure millions of k ids are fed It starts with Federal money but on its way to cafeterias, school districts have to order the meals and food giants grab a big slice of the school lunch pie But before we get to all of this The food fight sweeping school cafeterias, going from tray to trash Let’s go back to the 1800s In 1853, the Children’s Aid Society of New York started an informal lunch program for its vocational school but it wasn’t until the 1930s that school lunches really caught on in the rest of the country In about the 1890s, you see a real expansion and the role of schools and community is
when they actually start to become social institutions and so, in addition to basic education they’re also providing health services and one of the things that happens when you know physicians and nurses start working in schools they start documenting all kinds of cases of things like malnourishment In 1935, Congress set aside money for school lunch programs Not everyone in the community supported the government’s efforts to feed kids during the day Restaurant owners sued school districts
for lost business The courts typically sided in favor of the school’s right to operate lunch rooms And by 1941, roughly six million kids were eating food provided by the government That food came from products farmers had too much of like pork, dairy, and wheat, a win for both schools and farmers In the ’40s, the Federal government passes the National School Lunch Act and this makes it possible to actually fund the programs predominantly with public money National School Lunch Program in thousands of schools for millions of American children By this time, other countries around the world had already developed their own school lunch systems While the U.S. took the lead from European countries, there was one thing that made school lunches in the U.S. distinctly American a hint of capitalism The fundamental basis for school lunches was a sort of business model They often adopted like little tokens like little coins or use like tickets of some sort that you know paying kids would buy and then kids who were receiving free lunches would be given the ticket but the idea is that you were exchanging something, there was a transaction Enter the School Lunch Lobby Today you have groups like the School Nutrition Association and National School Boards Association advocating on behalf of the schools In corporations like Tyson and PepsiCo show face at meetings to make sure their products are in school districts minds Meanwhile, groups like the Food Research Action Center and the Center on Budget and Priorities keep a close watch on nutrition Robert Doar worked as a commissioner under Mayor Bloomberg where he administered food assistance programs in New York City And he’s no stranger to the lobbying efforts in the world of government assistance It is true that the interests here are not only what’s best for low income families, the other interests are the various providers of food This is true of anything we do in government, anytime the Federal government is extending significant dollars on a product people that sell that product you’re gonna be interested in maximizing that spending In 1966, Congress passed the Child Nutrition Act expanding the school lunch program In 1969, about 15% of kids were getting their lunch for free or at a lower price In fiscal year 2017, that number had risen to 73% That meant that millions of trays needed to be filled every day and that created a business opportunity School lunch programs really start to move away from scratch cooking and toward this kind of factory prepared meal that’s been reheated and then served to them And then came the funding fights which led
to the infamous ketchup controversy In 1981, The Reagan administration wanted to cut $1 billion in school lunch funding In order to meet the nutritional guidelines while staying on a budget, the Department of Agriculture got creative and declared ketchup a vegetable The backlash was so strong the funding cut was quickly reversed, but ketchup hasn’t been the only product to stretch the definition of what makes a vegetable Even today, some school pizza sauces
count as a serving of veggies French fries obviously are made out of potatoes and potatoes are a vegetable That was another defeat I would say that the USDA experienced because of industry lobbying Yes, fries still count as a veggie, frozen potato wedges are on the USDA’s vegetable list for child nutrition programs Those bags of frozen foods have to come from somewhere which is where companies like Tyson come in The company, valued at more than $21 billion, saw the opportunity and acted Tyson has its own k12 poduct catalog of frozen foods made just for school cafeterias We reached out to Tyson for comment and to see how much of their business comes from its k12 food products The company didn’t respond and it’s k12 earnings aren’t specified in its annual report but frozen foods aren’t the only way to cash in on school lunches In 2014, the USDA came up with something called smart snack guidelines, making the snack line healthier Which meant if big food companies wanted to keep their products in schools they had to adapt Now nearly every major food manufacturer in the U.S. has a catalogue of products custom-made to meet USDA standards We felt like kids were getting exposed to these brands you know like Frito-Lay brands and then they would go to the grocery store and want to buy that brand and it’s not the same product We did a study where we really put the two products side by side Just looking at that it’s super obvious that the companies really made no effort to distinguish the one they were selling in school versus the one you could buy in the store The product on the left labeled special edition is sold in schools, it has 7 grams of sugar, vitamin C 25% The product on the right sold in stores has 10 grams of sugar, the vitamin C in this one is just 10% And those custom-made foods aren’t just in the snack line Domino’s has a special smart slice program with pizzas tailor-made to meet USDA standards and the more pizzas schools buy, the more
rewards points they wrack up Those can be traded and for Domino’s swag and even cafeteria equipment Domino’s told us, quote, We are proud of our school lunch product It meets the USDA guidelines for school nutrition standards and is something that kids love to eat It is also good for the schools as it is simple for them to serve and keeps lunch participation rates high It also said that schools make the choice as to whether to serve their pizza branded or unbranded Remember the SNA, one of the lobbies on behalf of schools, they’re listed as a smart slice partner And it’s worth mentioning Domino’s, Tyson and a number of other major food companies are SNA industry members meaning they pay money for monthly newsletters advertising discounts and just a local legislative contacts The SNA said, quote, While many schools are working to increase the amount of freshly prepared and scratch-made menu items those with limited equipment and labor resources rely on healthy pre-prepared foods to ensure students receive balanced meals each day Corporate money reaches far beyond the lunchroom It works its way into schools’ sporting events and celebrations through fundraisers Think of scoreboards, parking lot signs, and pizza parties or that summer reading program Krispy Kreme sponsors a major fundraising program too and McDonald’s has a McTeacher’s Night fundraising program where teachers come in to work the counter in hopes that their kids come in to see them It caught a lot of flack from school districts with LA’s ending the program altogether but some schools still participate None of those companies returned our request for comment So why do people care so much Schools need food and big companies have it but the childhood obesity rate has more than tripled since the 1970s And with roughly 30 million kids getting their lunch from a government funded program it raises the question, what responsibility does the government have to make their meals healthy In 2010, Michelle Obama spearheaded a major change in the system with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act We have an obligation to make sure that those meals are as nutritious as possible It tightened nutrition guidelines for cafeterias across the country, requiring them to serve more fruits and vegetables At first, its noble intentions were praised but some took issue with how it actually played out in lunch rooms across the country Kids throw food away at about the same rate as the rest of America but after the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act people just started noticing it more More kids were taking fruit it went up significantly but the same proportion was getting eaten and thrown away So more is getting eaten and more is getting thrown away Schools seem to be caught in the cycle of a lack of funding, kitchen training, and time While there are Federal regulations, the menus really come from the schools on the local level They’re the ones ordering and preparing the food and since it’s decentralized it’s hard to know which companies are making the most money and if kids are really getting fed quality meals But some people are trying to change that on a local level Dan Giusti is the former head chef of Noma where he created high-end meals for hundreds of dollars a person Now he’s running a group called Brigade working to bring scratch cooking, not just warming stations, to kitchens on a $1.25 budget And he’s trying to change the reputation of school lunches altogether It’s almost like it’s this rite of passage like as a student in an institution like its just what you get, you get lousy food In May 2018, the Trump administration rolled back some of the rules around whole grains, sodium and flavored milks to give schools more flexibility in their meal planning The politics, money and controversy around school lunches aren’t going away But at the end of the day, the kids are the ones it really impacts And for some school lunches are the best meal they’re going to get throughout the day These kids are showing up to school everyday but at home they’re not eating and it makes you rethink everything like holidays like oh 3 day weekend, great But that means that these kids aren’t eating for 3 days, or snow days But that means that not only are these kids not eating but they are also at home in an environment that’s probably not good for them Studies have shown that if kids are fed, they perform better in school and with millions of kids relying on free or low-cost lunches every day it’s a big, important problem to solve

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About the Author: Oren Garnes


  1. I live in England and feel sorry for Americans since alot of us have meals like pasta pots or chicken boxes for free

  2. In highschool we weren’t allowed off campus, but if you parked in a different lot you could leave, we’d get hella dominos pizza for 6 bucks a piece and sell them for 3 a slice instead of 5 the school was charging

  3. I really hate Michelle Obama for making me eat actual crap in school like I am so mad that now Trump is fixing the crap that Michelle I am so glad for Trump

  4. At my school, we don’t have a cafeteria. We either bring our own lunches, or take advantage of the “hot lunch program” where we can order restaurant food up to three times a week. We get things like pizza, quesadillas, chow mein, burgers, and stuff from pretty much every fast food place you can think of.

  5. This video was eye opening and made me appreciate First Lady Michelle Obama’s previous mission on making school lunches healthier

  6. I live in Australia and I have never had school lunches you brought your own. But you could order what wanted for lunch the night before

  7. My school gives out rotten foods for a $1.55 and they deny you lunch if you have ANY negative balance in your account

  8. In Canada, i pay 3.25 for a quesadilla, 2 juice boxes, an apple, and carrots with dip.

    [This message was made by the "just bring your own food to school" gang"

  9. My school lunch consists of oven baked cheesy sauce pizza with honey glazed roasted broccoli with a 100% organic and natural milk or just fine purified hydrogen bonds attached to oxygen molecules.

    Aka frozen broccoli “cooked” in a microwave for 5 seconds with a frozen pizza served with rotten and expired milk and or lead fused water. No joke our water fountains had to be closed because it had too much lead.
    Tbh our meals are not bad and it’s free.

  10. I grew up poor tended to not have a lot of food at home as a result, I knew the school lunches weren’t nutritious, I knew I wasn’t getting the nutrients I needed I did care because my belly was full

  11. Food at my school are very expensive like a slice of pizza is $2.75 a salad, is $4 which I saw at HEB for only $2. They clearly buy school lunch from stores like costco and sams because I seen the drink and the package matches to what I saw at costco

  12. When I forgot to take lunch from home in elementary school, I was forced to take a lunch tray.

    I preferred to be hungry over eating… that. I'd eat the apple slices or orange if there was any and just throw the rest out.

    Later in high school I always had my own home cooked lunch, and did not understand how people could eat the, well, garbage that was served.

  13. lol Perfect junk food is served as a healthy!! What on earth is happening in America??

    Corporate lobbying at its best!. They are not creating a bright young generation but a unhealthy gen to consume medicines from major corporate companies. Stupids!.

  14. The food the were showing looked way better then the food they serve at my school the pizza is basically plastic

  15. Not just the above mention from the videos. You can imagine your kids growing up eating domino's, mcdonald, so will they continue to eat all these food after they grow up. Definitely. As it is a habit. So the companies will still able to profit even hundreds years later. It is a marketing strategy for them t.

  16. I work in food service and trust me the schools buy the cheapest stuff specially fruits they only buy frozen pizza juice, canned fruits, canned meats and cereal. Only the private schools buy the fresh stuff.

  17. I still get the Scratchmade food. My lunch workers care about us. Ketchup, fries, and any potatoes do not count in our cafeteria.

  18. I’ve been served moldy tater tots and once with a staple in it, all they did was told me to throw it away and they will give me more 🤢

  19. Dominos? my school has 4 different types of lunch lines. Regular, pizza, Mixed (it may serve what's in the regular line, the pizza line, or a different thing altogether), and the snack bar line, which is basically discount chick fl la but with sweet potato fries 3 days a week. Also, we have vending machines that cost $1 for one drink (soda) or chips/Snacks.

    I am on the Free/reduced program and honestly, I go home hungry. The portions are not high enough is the major complaint from most students. The alternative lunch only has 2 options, salad or hummus on stale flat thin bread.

    I think my school is pretty blessed to have this stuff but the food is not that good. Students pay $2.25 for 4 mini corndogs, a small scoop of salad and/or fruit, and milk. That's what I ate today

  20. h0t lunch = chick peas, few tortillas chips , 1 scoop of meat & milk that can be expired but students stilldrink it

  21. Wanna know a fun fact? My school doesn’t even have pizza! Yayy!

    A typical school lunch at my school:

    Rice, some random curry, pickles, and curd.

    Yes, I’m Asian.

  22. I can see thier thinking, but potatoes aren't vegetables, (atleast not in the direct sense) because yes, the potato plant is, well, a plant. But not really a vegetable.

  23. I don't even know why y'all complaining, my school doesn't even give school lunches smh

    Edit : the whole school in my country doesn't have one

  24. Imagine if they served healthy food like chia seeds and kale and stuff. The whole program would become useless because no one would eat it.

  25. Easy. Instead of spending $700 billion on useless weapons cause war is dumb and oil isnt everything, invest in schools, infrastructure, etc.

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