We asked a bunch of seventh graders some of your most contentious food questions

Junior high boy bites into piece of pizza in cafeteria
No seventh graders were harmed in the writing of this piece.
Photo: Mel Melcon (Getty Images)

As the nexus between childhood and adolescence, seventh grade is pretty much the grossest time ever. But it’s also arguably the most honest period of a human’s life, as most 13-year-old brains are too occupied with pre-algebra and sniffing one’s own pits to tell a convincing lie. This makes seventh graders the most reliable jury when it comes to the tough stuff—namely, whether cereal is considered a soup. To answer this question and other crucial food queries, I checked in with 38 seventh graders in a combination English/college prep class at Andrew Carnegie Middle School in Orangevale, California. Their insights, sent to me via Google Form, are below, with original spelling and punctuation intact.

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Is a hot dog a sandwich?

Out of the 38 seventh graders I surveyed, 24 of them answered this question with some variation of “no.” The negative responses included “no it is connected at the bottem,” which makes perfect sense to me as I’ve often argued that the bun’s isthmus—the narrow strip of bread connecting the two pieces of bun—could be antithetical to a hot dog’s sandwich status. Negative responses also included “NO WAY” and the tough but fair “no.no.no.no.no.no.no.no.no.no. :)”

Fourteen answered “yes,” including one ardent student who responded, “yes and if you don’t think that you’re wrong.” Other students argued that a hot dog is a sandwich “because there is bread and protein” (fair) and also because “it has the meat the bread and the condiments ketchup and mustard and sometimes relish,” which is confusing but also compelling.

Is cereal a soup?

My friend Amy, who teaches the class I interviewed, informed me that this question has been the subject of much heated discussion. Naturally, I had to inquire. This question got seven “yes” responses, 29 “no” responses (including one “no and if you think so i will call the manager”), one “depends,” and one “i dont have enough brain cells to think about this one.” While the question seems straightforward, some of the rationales behind the answers surprised me. For example, one student argued that cereal isn’t a soup “because most soups are healthy and cereal isn’t.” Another described cereal as “a COLD soup with SUGAR.” I also received a response from a kid who argued that cereal is not warm, and soup must be warm—which we know to be untrue, but I can’t really blame a seventh grader for not getting down with gazpacho. Finally, I received the following highly scientific explanation:

“Yes. The definition of soup is ‘Soup is a primarily liquid food, generally served warm or hot, that is made by combining ingredients of meat or vegetables with stock, or water. Hot soups are additionally characterized by boiling solid ingredients in liquids in a pot until the flavors are extracted, forming a broth.’ Which explains cereal.”

Makes sense to me.

When is the perfect time to eat lunch?

Puberty aside, the worst thing about seventh grade is placing your schedule in the hands of grown-ups. Grown-ups are idiots. Grown-ups are also notorious for failing to agree on the perfect lunchtime, with school administrators forcing kids to eat either despicably early or ghoulishly late. (Throughout high school, my lunch bell rang at 11:01 a.m. That is brunch.) Fortunately, the Carnegie seventh graders made some astute points:

  • “The most perfect time to eat lunch is at 12:30. It is right between 12 and 1 so you can start preparing lunch around 12 and end lunch at about 1.”
  • “How big was you breakfast? Did you eat a snack in between? If you had a big breakfast and no snack, then 12:30.”
  • “Five hours after breakfast.”
  • “When I am hungry.”

And, finally, the somewhat chilling “after my second Zoom is done.” We’ll get back to normal soon, guys. Promise.

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When is the perfect time to eat dinner?

The answers to this question were just as varied as the answers to the lunchtime question, with some students lobbying for “7 o clock at the spot” and others simply responding “yes.” But my personal favorite was as follows: “Around 5:30 because it’s the evening it’s not dark it’s not full daylight its just the time to relax and enjoy food.” Relaxing and enjoying food. That kid’s got the right idea.

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How can you tell when something is a finger food or when you’re supposed to use a fork?

The practical responses to this one prove once and for all that seventh graders should rule the world. For example: “Finger foods are usually defined as individual portions of food that are small. The ideal finger food usually does not create any mess.” Astute. One student also recommended gauging “if it is bite size or has bread around it” to determine a food’s finger friendliness. Another student suggested taking cues from people around you, “especially your posh grandmother,” while another replied, “I don’t really know, my mom just gives me a fork and sometimes she doesn’t.” Ultimately, most students suggested relying on intuition—like the respondent who pointed out that “If you’re at a nice restaurant, chances are, you eating with a fork.” That same kid added that “If your mom is willing to yell at you, in public, then you’re also probably eating with a fork,” which is a rule of thumb I use to this day. And finally, “when it’s messy don’t pick it up.”

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Is there a right way to eat spaghetti?

Proper noodle etiquette is something that continues to divide the human race. Personally, I stick with the ol’ fork-twirling-in-spoon trick, but I’m not afraid to slurp.

For the most part, the Carnegie seventh graders echoed this philosophy, arguing that any method works “as long as it gets in your mouth and not on the floor.” One student noted that “if you take toasted bread with cheese or garlic on it and put some noodles on it and fold it they’re very good,” which is correct. Another pointed out that “everyone eats differently,” which is something we’d do well to remember as a society. But one future entrepreneur made a salient point I hadn’t yet considered: “Whoever’s done first wins.”

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Finally, what constitutes the perfect meal?

Spaghetti slurping and cereal soup aside, I found the students’ interpretations of this question to be really touching. Although the Google Form contained a few jokester answers like “food,” “anything not including pickles,” and “when you have bread on the side” (true), some of the students gave thoughtful answers that prove it’s not necessarily what you’re eating—it’s who you’re eating it with. Take the young horse gal after my own heart, who replied: “My perfect meal would be sitting on a big grassy hill with my horse. She could graze while I would eat my spagetti! After we are done eating I would hop on her and we would go on a night ride under the stars!”

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Another student responded that the perfect meal involves “sushi with my friends and family,” while another dreams of a meal enjoyed with “a sunset background outside but with an umbrella, around 65 degrees.” Other answers included:

  • “From a restranut little ceasers and the breadsticks! from home my moms spaghetti”
  • “Appetizer: balverian pretzel and Caesar Salad Dinner: chicken parmesan with pasta w/t vodka sauce Dessert: a chocolate smith island cake”
  • “A perfect diet should: Be High in Nutrients. Move away from the food group philosophy and toward a nutrient philosophy. Eat nutrients: proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. You do not specifically need to consume milk and milk alternatives, meat and meat alternatives, and grain products.” (Note: This response did give me pause, like maybe CrossFit has infiltrated the middle school market and/or the student in question is actually an adult, like in that movie Orphan.)
  • “Spaghetti and chocolate milk”
  • “a quesadilla and fries”
  • “Brussel sprouts, BBQ chicken, and my dad’s rice for dinner. My grandma’s chocolate bundt cake for dessert”
  • “Toebeoki in ramen with some moon cake and puto” (Note: I also think this is the perfect meal.)
  • “An EVERYTHING BUFFET”
  • “ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh”

Finally, as one student points out, “Salt can be good on almost anything.”

Just as I suspected, seventh graders remain a sweet, relatively untapped source of practical wisdom. When in doubt, ask a tween. Just make sure you offer a side of fries as payment.

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Staff writer @ The Takeout, joke writer elsewhere. Wrangling dogs and pork shoulder in Chicago.

DISCUSSION

Observations:

The kid with the connected hot dog bun argument is on point.

The kid with the “scientific” definition of soup copied that from a dictionary or something and probably cheats on their tests.

Most of the kids seem to understand intuitively that any food, other than soup, can be a finger food if you want it to be but there are consequences.

The young horse gal is almost certainly named Sarah.

In aggregate, a very spaghetti-centric bunch.

(yes, I know I’m judging 7th graders. relax)