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The Phoenix

Power-Ranking the NYC DOE School Lunch Meals

Note: As I rank the cafeteria offerings below, I will be offering my judgment with regard to the average specimen; the typical portion a student is served. So we’ll be assessing the deliciousness or edibility of a relatively fresh nugget or meatball, not the one cooked to perfection off the assembly line, nor the one you pray doesn’t end up on your tray because it’s been rotting away in the steambath all day.

5. Chicken Dumplings

The Dumpling pasta itself is decent, and the soy sauce does seem reasonably tasteful. While the chicken component presents as a meaty amalgamation of suffering, it tastes like normal chicken. The texture could be improved if the dumplings were less dense, and were a bit more airy, rather than tight and compact. Unlike many other school lunch meals, this concoction makes a person feel somewhat satisfied after, not needing more or feeling bloated.

Official Rating- 7.0/10


4. Baked Ziti

Although many readers may disagree with this high ranking, the few dishes not on this list are not strong enough to take the Ziti out of the running. Pasta is one of the few things there is no way for the DOE to mess up, which is really saying something. While the sauce and cheese are sub-par, a free Italian dish other than pizza is a pleasant surprise in these troubled times. Generally filling. The pasta and contributing sauce stays warm for a while, and is generally easy to pick up with the plastic forks.

Official Rating- 7.4/10

3. Mozzarella Sticks

In the cafeteria, you will likely encounter two varieties of the mozzarella sticks: the limp yet tantalizingly stringy ones, and the more durable, compact ones that I guess were left floating in the Fryolator. The breading, which undeniably allows for more of a crunch on the latter variety, is still satisfactory on the others. The cheese, despite being more synthetic than a plastic bag, is succulent, and can warm the soul on a chilly winter day. The element of ultimate taste output now becomes heavily reliant upon the sauce. Cold sauce will almost certainly put you in a bad mood until your next meal, but warm sauce makes even the most cardboard-like snack incredible. The sticks will round out the meal perfectly, not only improving the taste, but filling your belly to the exact correct amount, regardless of usual hunger-scale.

Official Rating- 7.9/10

2. Pizza

It’s pizza, meaning it will always be good, even if it’s school pizza. The course tastes fine, and it’s pretty filling. The cafeteria variety can sometimes be messy, and when not cooked thoroughly, the cheese is prone to slide off. But compared to the other school lunches, seeing it on the menu always makes one feel a little rush of excitement, or simply one of relief. It’s enough to get you through the day, which is important for lunch in general. While just ok when it’s bad, when it’s good, the school becomes a better place for the lunch period and maybe after. The ripple effects of pizza day are ever-present. Solutions to one’s personal problems arise out of thin air. Answers to the world’s ills others seem at the tips of your fingers. Society appears salvageable for 45 minutes. 

Official Rating- 8.1/10


Honorary Mention: Crackers and Hummus

While it may be a side dish, it is still satisfactory in taste and contents, and what’s more, lunch ladies won’t stop you from getting more. If you are not yet satisfied upon reaching the conclusion of your main course, the crackers and hummus will sustain you for as long as they can. Serviceable as a side course, and would probably work as a solid main course if the portions were larger.


1. Burgers/Patties

The meat is trashy and fake, but it doesn’t matter. I don’t care that the portions sometimes seem small or that the bread is stale. It still tastes good and strong, yet relaxing, and will put you in a good mood after having it. It is not volatile like the other cafeteria meals, in that you know what you’re going to get. That’s a comfort in modern times. Any of the sauces can be used to tailor it personally to your desire. It’s just good. Good old-fashioned low-quality good. Not a lot to it. Nobody is trying too hard to create these cafeteria burgers, or added to much effort. And that’s good enough for me. 

Official Rating- 8.4/10


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