Back-to-school time means back-to-school cafeteria time. And in most cases, that’s not a good thing. School cafeteria food isn’t known for its healthy or delicious options, but when you’re a kid, and you’ve been sitting through a half day of learning things you most likely don’t care about, lunch is the best thing to happen all day. Remember what it was like in your school cafeteria? It was typically way cooler to buy your lunch (or get it for free, depending on what type of school you went to), than it was to bring a sack lunch (unless you brought the good stuff—like Snack Packs, Gushers, or Dunkaroos), even though the food was gross.
School cafeterias are a strange place. Things happen there that really don’t happen anywhere else. Let’s get nostalgic together and remember some of the things that only happen in school cafeterias.
1. You smelled something you will never smell anywhere else
It’s impossible to accurately describe, but you know what I’m taking about. The stale smell of dirty kids, trash cans, french fries, some sort of dying animal, and a hint of vomit. I recently visited my middle school for the first time in almost 20 years (yikes), and let me tell you—the cafeteria smelled the exact same, and it wasn’t pleasant.
2. Adults watched you eat and gave you a time limit
Where else are you only given 20 minutes to eat, followed by a few minutes of outside time (AKA recess), all while being watched by a group of adults? Prison.
3. You threw food at your friends’ faces and it was amazing
There’s no other place where food fights are frequent and involve almost every single person in the room. Except prison again, I imagine.
4. You ate off of styrofoam compartment plates like you were on a weird airplane
These plates exist to prevent all the terrible unhealthy food from touching each other. Obviously the best compartment was the dessert compartment.
5. You broke out into a cold sweat trying to open your milk and “orange juice” cartons
I placed quotations around “orange juice,” because I refuse to call orange sugar-water orange juice. Remember how impossible the cartons were to open? If you didn’t get enough leverage with the tip of the cardboard, you were screwed.
6. Or you resorted to drinking milk from a sack
Because cartons took up too much space? If you poked too hard with your straw, that straw was going through the other side. Leaving you with a milky mess and an angry lunch lady.
7. You had to keep a watchful eye out for spit balls
Of course spit balls can happen anywhere, but they tended to be most prominent in school cafeterias. Probably because paper straw wrappers were readily available. As were at least 100 classmates.
8. You actually used the word “cafeteria” frequently
In most life situations, the word cafeteria is shortened to café, because the word café sounds more pleasant and is more respectable. But no kid has ever called their school cafeteria a café, because there usually isn’t anything pleasant or respectable about them.
9. Boys sat with boys and girls sat with girls
At my middle school, there was little to no gender intermingling. I’m sure it mostly had to do with pubescent awkwardness. Do you remember ever seeing a boy sit down at a lunch table full of girls? Probably not, because it has never happened in the history of time.
10. You rejoiced when it was pizza day
You experienced an unreasonable amount of excitement at the thought of eating stale bread rectangles. Five meatloaf days in a row will do that to a person.