10 Best School Lunches In America (Slideshow)

10. Boulder Valley School District — Boulder, Colorado

In the past several years, this Colorado school district has revamped its offerings to include burgers and nachos made with hormone- and antibiotic-free beef, locally sourced bratwurst and tamales, buns from Whole Foods Market, and an international array of dishes. Scratch-made items include lasagna, Szechuan beef and broccoli stir-fry, cheesy polenta with veggies, and oven-fried chicken. Students are allowed to hit up the salad bar as much as they want (and get unlimited skim or organic 1 percent milk and fresh fruit).

9. Seattle Public Schools — Seattle

Seattle has always been a progressive town for food, so it's no surprise Seattle public schools are locally focused and nutritionally sound when it comes to school lunches. Kids are treated to a mélange of pizza and burgers every day, including vegetarian options aplenty and express grab-and-go items such as turkey-pastrami subs, hummus platters and chicken Caesar salads. Daily entrées range from fish tacos with chili lime salsa and bean and cheese enchiladas to spicy Buffalo wings with potatoes and garlic toast and chicken teriyaki with whole grain rice.

8. U. B. U. Lounge — Multiple States

More of an all-encompassing lunchroom experience than solely about food, U.B.U. Lounge is a new way of thinking about cafeteria design. With comfy couches and chairs, a "self-expression" wall for students to voice themselves, and a broad selection of both grab-and-go and made-to-order eating options, it caters to the teenage lifestyle like never before during school hours. Menu highlights include "Santa Fe Turkey" (turkey, ham, bacon and cheddar baked with chili mayo in a sub roll), "So Sesame Chicken" (served in an authentic Chinese food container) and "Chicken Fredo Roll" (a baked pizza dough pocket filled with grilled chicken, Alfredo sauce, bacon and Parmesan cheese).

7. Berkeley Unified School District — Berkeley, Calif.

The health of the student body is no joke to the public school district of Berkeley, Calif. Thanks to chef and activist Alice Waters, who developed the Edible Schoolyard Project, the powers-that-be eliminated all processed foods from Berkeley school lunch menus, as well as hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, high-fructose corn syrup, refined sugars, and other harmful chemicals, dyes, and additives that routinely make their way into institutional eats. The menu features food from local sources, including all kinds of Mexican delights (burritos, enchiladas, tamales, nachos, quesadillas, crispy and soft tacos), balsamic chicken wraps, and spicy teriyaki drumsticks with root vegetable slaw.

6. Burlington School District — Burlington, Vermont

With one-third of its meals sourced locally, an in-depth beekeeping program, and a brand-new food truck program starting in Spring 2014 that will become an integral part of business and culinary arts classes in Burlington high schools, this Vermont school district is one of the most innovative in terms of how it approaches eating and nutrition. Student lunches feature daily soups, a salad bar that offers unlimited refills, and milk, along with the added bonus of extra fruits and vegetables available for hungry kids during class. 

5. Edible Schoolyard New Orleans — New Orleans

New Orleans is a mecca for dining, so it should be the case that the great food carries over into the schools. Thanks to the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans program, it does. Students don't just eat great food in the FirstLine schools where this program runs, they also plant and harvest it, learn about its history and nutrition, and cook it themselves. That's right: the kids are lucky enough to have kitchen classrooms on select sites, allowing them to truly get hands-on in the process. Dishes you'll find in the ESYNOLA teaching kitchens at FirstLine schools include gumbo, redbean hummus, Caribbean collard greens and flourless black bean avocado brownies.

4. Ross School — Hamptons, New York

As a member of the Green School Alliance, Ross puts an emphasis on conservation, using ingredients sourced from local farmers and business in more than half the food served in the illustrious Ross Café. Additionally, students learn to grow and harvest crops from the school's organic garden, some of which are used in the café and others donated to a local food bank. The students bus their own tables, sort the recycling, and even send food scraps to a local farm for compost. Meals run the gamut, from Brazilian fish and shellfish stew, chili (beef and vegetarian), brick oven margherita pizza and balsamic-glazed salmon to mac and cheese, spinach and feta pie, red beans and rice with andouille sausage and brown rice with roasted zucchini and sautéed broccoli rabe.

3. Calhoun School — Manhattan, New York

No kidding: the French Culinary Institute's chef Bobo is in charge of this NYC private school's "Eat Right Now" culinary program, and he doesn't disappoint. Ten-day menus are submitted a week in advance by rotating members of Bobo's kitchen squadron, with each set containing 40 percent chicken, 20 percent red meat, 20 percent fish and 20 percent vegetarian. There's a fully stocked salad bar with dressings made from scratch each day by in-house chefs, along with daily soups, sandwiches (which are typically vegetarian), and starches like quinoa and whole-wheat pasta. 

2. Dalton School — Manhattan, New York

This NYC private school boasts a menu that rivals nearby restaurants, teaching the future-leaders-of-America early on about the amazing eats they can look forward to once they graduate from the Ivy League college of their choice and land a lucrative job at a high-powered firm. That's the plan, at least. With "Meatless Monday" and "Tasty Tuesday" as integral aspects of the weekly-changing menu, the kids here never get bored. 

1. Sidwell Friends School — Washington, D.C.

If you've got the two First Daughters enrolled at your academy, you'd better be sure the lunch is luxurious. And that's exactly how it is at Sidwell. Cuisines you'd never dream of show up on the menu here, such as an entire lunch of Brazilian delicacies like feijoada, caldo verde soup, all-natural chicken with coconut milk, and mango and pineapple with lime and mint. There's a soup every day, like borscht, creamy spinach soup or Tuscan white bean, and creative dishes like the Creole caprese salad or hot and sour Cajun gumbo served on "Fat Tuesday."