School Hamburgers Contain 25 Ingredients That Aren’t Meat

One would think a hamburger patty is a pretty self-explanatory food (i.e. a patty made out of hamburger meat) but a recent NPR report proves just how wrong that assumption would be.

Hamburgers make regular appearances on school lunch menus across the country, but as an episode of “Tiny Desk Kitchen” discovered, there are 25 ingredients in those patties that aren’t meat. So what exactly are your kids eating? Perhaps a better question to ask would be “what color”?

Breaking down each of the ingredients on the label school-bound hamburger meat, NPR’s Allison Aubrey discovered blue copper gluconate, red cyanocobalamin, thiamine mononitrate, and pyridoxine hydrochloride. If you’re wondering what the heck those chemical-sounding ingredients are doing in a cheeseburger, you’re not alone.

Here’s Aubrey with more on why those mystery ingredients are included in meat fed to students:

Ultimately, it seems that many of these powered substances are vitamins and minerals. They’re combined with hamburger meat in an attempt to compensate for the fact that most kids aren’t getting enough nutrients from the foods they eat at home. But not even food scientists think that they’re a worthy substitute for whole fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins.

And then, as Grist points out, there’s the stuff that tries to cover up the burger’s artificiality. “Caramel color, for instance, makes the burger look like it’s been grilled when it really hasn’t. Yeast makes the meat taste more meaty, and the spices, flavorings, and sweeteners (!?) aren’t just there to enhance the flavor of the meat. They’re there to mask the bitterness of the added “enrichment” chemicals.”

While lots of these additives show up in processed food adults eat as well, there’s a big difference between choosing to eat them, and being fed these substances unknowingly. Thankfully, the report notes that parents and school cafeteria workers are growing uncomfortable with the high level of processed foods being served in school cafeterias, and many school boards are moving to phase them out. Very slowly.

Related Reading:

Take Action! Stop The Purchase Of 7 Million Pounds Of Pink Slime For School Lunches

Arizona Proposes Ending Free School Lunches For Needy Kids

Michelle Obama Helps Debut Healthier School Lunches


Jim Ven
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

Eat well for our health

Marion Friedl
Marion Friedl2 years ago

Am I glad I´ve been Veggie for 30 years now, and also that I don´t have children, lol!!! No seriously: it´s a shame what fast food companies put into their products, no one knows which side effects those might have...

Charity Mission
Charity Mission2 years ago


Angela P.
Angie P3 years ago

Thanks for article.

Duane B.
.3 years ago

I wonder if this is the same caramel coloring that is in some sodas that has been deemed carcinogenic? Thank you for sharing.

Dale O.

Thank you Nicole B. Very odd that you would get an email about this older article. Perhaps you had a check in the 'get comment replies via email' on the article but this is unlikely since the last comment is dated June 2012. The marvels of technology!

Certainly, many would have 'smuggled' foods from home as people are rather inventive when it comes to foods while avoiding, say, peanut butter because of the allergy issue. That did not exist when I was young but then there were not all the additives, refined foods back then and it is more predominant in the U.S. Soy of course for the most part is not organic and is now mostly GMO which is a very serious health concern. The labelling laws in some nations hide if soy etc., is GMO as well. Thanks for nothing Monsanto...their campaign in California against labelling is a sham. Just what are they afraid of? Soy is often a filler in burgers. Schools often order cafeteria food from bulk suppliers/meals cooked elsewhere who often purchase GMO veggies as well. Good time to go back to in house school cafeteria cooking with local ingredients and local organic meat and dare I say it, each school have their own non GMO veggie garden as well.

Nicole Bergeron
Nicole Bergeron4 years ago

And just saw the date. Wow, so old and yet I got a link to it through the mail by Care2

Nicole Bergeron
Nicole Bergeron4 years ago

My high school has admitted, when I asked what was in the meat, that they ordered from a place that used a max of half, and a min of 20%, soy protein in their meat. I started using alie cart (the more expensive option, and I would run out of money before the end of the month if i used it every day, so some days I stole the fruit of my friends) instead for salads because my at the time step-father refused to let me make my lunch at home and bring it to school. Now after this, i wonder if the other half was actually even meat.
What saddens me that many schools are banning homemade lunches because some kids may have allergies, many kids would benefit from going back to homemade school lunches made from left overs of dinner, looking at what is in the school meals.
I have allergies and I would have benefited from a homemade lunch. Luckily for my high school, it was the fault of my at the time step-father and not theirs.

Dale: I would have snuck food out of my house if all there was only vegan options for my school. With my luck they would have used tofu this and tofu that, and cross contamination with nothing that had to do with soy. I agree, there should be an option for both omnivore and herbivore diets in schools, but with making sure there is no cross contamination on either side. I would have actually liked more veggies/fruits and less starches for my school lunches (2/3 of the lunches at that high school everyday was starches).

Dale Overall

Meat is a good protein if prepared properly and not filled with tons of chemicals, additives and the like-just like some granola bars are filled with unhealthy things.
Vegans should not be forcing their life style on others by banning meat-it along with other nutritious foods should be part of an all inclusive diet.
When making hamburgers I always add sunflower, pumpkin and other seeds to the mix, ground flax, thinly diced mushrooms and veggies, an egg and many other delicious things.