School Lunch Showdown: 850-Calorie Meals Compared

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Have you seen that music video "We Are Hungry"? It isn't a famine-relief fundraiser featuring well-meaning pop stars. It's a musical complaint about the new, reduced-calorie public school lunch size made by students at Wallace County High School, in Sharon Springs, Kan. The video, set to the tune of Fun's hit song "We Are Young," has been viewed more than 500,000 times on YouTube.

The new rules, passed by Congress in 2010 to fight childhood obesity and promote health, took effect in August. High school cafeterias must serve twice as many fruits and vegetables as before, limit proteins and carbohydrates, and serve lunches containing 750 to 850 calories.

For an average high schooler, that means two baked fish nuggets, a cup of vegetables, half a cup of mashed potatoes, one whole-grain roll, and eight ounces of fat-free milk.

"850 calories is plenty for lunch and ought to tide a teenager over until after school," Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, told ABC News.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack echoed this sentiment in an interview with ABC News, emphasizing the time-honored value of the after-school snack.

So what can you get for 850 calories or less? Everything from your classic, health-conscious grilled chicken and vegetables lunch to a Big Mac meal at McDonald's. Check out some options below and watch more on the school lunch revolt on "20/20: Classroom Confidential" TONIGHT at 10/9c.

Fast Food Options:


  • Big Mac (550)
  • small fries (230)
  • Diet Coke (0)
  • 2 ketchup packets (30)
  • small iced nonfat latte with sugar free vanilla syrup (40)

TOTAL: 850 calories

(according to company nutritional information)


  • Original Recipe chicken breast (360)
  • cole slaw (180)
  • mashed potatoes with gravy (120)
  • green beans (25)
  • Diet Pepsi (0)
  • oatmeal raisin cookie (150)

TOTAL: 835 calories

(according to company nutritional information)


  • Six-inch Cold Cut Combo sandwich - includes 9-grain wheat bread, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and cucumbers (370)
  • American cheese (40)
  • mayonnaise (110)
  • Baked Lay's chips (130)
  • oatmeal raisin cookie (200)
  • diet drink (0)

TOTAL: 850 calories

(according to company nutritional information)

Other Meals (calorie counts obtained using the USDA's Super-Tracker site):

Chicken With Sides

  • 1 roasted or grilled chicken breast, with skin (191)
  • 1 cup of canned cooked peas (151)
  • 1 medium-sized baked potato with salt and one tablespoon, reduced-fat sour cream (188)
  • 1 cup, low-sodium tomato juice (41)
  • 1 medium-sized apple (82)

TOTAL: 653 calories

Beef Stir Fry

  • 2 cups of beef and vegetable stir fry with soy sauce, with carrots and broccoli (412)
  • 1 cup of cranberry juice cocktail (109)
  • 1/2 a medium-sized grapefruit (41)
  • 1 chocolate ice-cream-filled Dove bar (282)

TOTAL: 844 calories

Spaghetti and Meatballs

  • 2 cups of spaghetti and meatballs (699)
  • salad, with lettuce with tomatoes and/or carrots (13)
  • 1 tablespoon of ranch dressing (71)
  • 1 cup of water (0)
  • 1 chocolate chip cookie (47)

TOTAL: 830 calories

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