Friday, August 30, 2013

Holly Hobbie and the Green Blob

My memories of school lunches go two ways. For the most part, I had lunches sent from home. I had a little metal Holly Hobbie lunch box with a thermos in it. The thermos most of the time contained soup for me, accompanied by a slightly soggy sandwich.

My mom would make a soup that was the opposite of my favorite, the spilt pea soup. Her version of spilt pea soup at the time was a bit on the THICK side. More of a scary green blob….think the green blob on Calvin’s plate from the Calvin & Hobbes cartoon. Other times, I remember having Campbell’s alphabet soup, which I enjoyed eating all of the individual letters and seeing if they tasted differently.

Other times my lunch had a sandwich and carrot/celery sticks. I do love sandwiches, but mine had lettuce, tomato and everything all together. That means it was soggy by the time I got to eat it. But I do remember enjoying the peanut butter and honey sandwiches. And since my parents where very healthy, my sandwiches were on the most hearty whole wheat bread possible. More than anything I craved a Wonder bread baloney sandwich with chips and a Twinkie. Thankfully, my parents never gave that to me.

When I was in first and second grade, we lived in Elgin, IL, and I went to a public school that had awesome lunches provided. We got to eat in our classroom and we received two trays each. One was a plastic lunch tray with cold foods, like a salad or carrot sticks with dip. I remember one cold dish that I detested, Ants on a log. My young culinary palate didn’t like the combo of celery, peanut butter and raisins. To this day, I do not like celery (weird, huh).
The other was an aluminum hot lunch tray. I fondly remember my favorite hot lunch, which I nicknamed the “Sea of cheese”. It was a large piece of pizza covered with lots of sauce and even more of gooey mozzarella cheese. It was delightful. Just part of my life long love affair with cheese.

School lunches really were for me the best part of the day. Maybe somewhere deep down I knew I was destined to become a chef.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Oh Those Nuggets!

When the days of packing became no longer hip, buying lunch for a cool $1.50 was my only option. That buck and change got you a protein, a vegetable, fruit which was usually swimming in heavy syrup, a roll and milk. No too shabby, eh? Everyone had a favorite lunch day. Some loved pizza, others preferred taco day and Philly cheese steak day was always a crowd-pleaser. For me, when it was chicken nugget day, anything seemed possible. Sad.

It’s hilarious to think back on how much processed nuggets, which probably contained mainly beaks, toe nails and feathers made my teenage day. I remember there being this giant container, essentially a bathtub full of BBQ sauce you could ladle on your tray for dipping. Gross. You could even get “double-lunch,” which is exactly how it sounds. You pay $3.00 for ten nuggets instead of five, get two rolls, two fruit cups, etc. I did this on multiple occasions. There was also a snack line which also got you a choco-dipped something or other. How the hell was I not a fat kid?

As the years progressed lunches did get a wee bit healthier but you had to pay a little bit more. In high school we actually has a pretty decent salad bar. Well, the lettuce wasn’t exactly pristine but it was a better option. I must say I did make better choices the older I got. Well, until senior year when we were allowed to go out for lunch. Hijinks definitely trumped a good meal at age seventeen.

With the help of PSA’s and documentaries like, Super Size Me and HBO’s Weight of the Nation series,school lunches are making strides. Well, at least that’s what it looks like from the outside. 

I honestly feel that if a school cafeteria is equipped with a salad bar, fruit variety and quality snacks a child will choose one of these options. That’s something. I have not eaten school lunch in over thirteen years. As an adult I am curious too see if the quality has improved, ya know, check out what these 2013 chicken nuggets are all about.

What was your favorite lunch? Would you define it as nutritional? Let me know!

By Foodgasm's PR and Social Media specialist, Marlena Riddell

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A Confession: My Lunch Was Fluff!

Here's another school lunch remembrance from Foodgasm's PR and Social Media specialist, Marlena Riddell

In an attempt to heighten my independence and maturity level, my mom decided, at the ripe age of eight, that I was worthy of packing my own lunch. I did not rise to the occasion. My lunch contained so much sugar that a diabetic’s leg would detach by simply catching a glimpse of its contents.

My obsession with Fluffernutter, aka “fluff,” was ridiculous. For those who are unfamiliar, fluff is a marshmallow spread which, in 1990, was a cement-like goop that always ripped through Wonder Bread. A mangled peanut butter and fluff sandwich was always the star of my hot-pink lunch satchel. The supporting cast that followed was most definitely not on the food pyramid.

Thanks to Little Debbie and Hostess, I always had a sugar bomb in the form of two logs, a pink ball or a spongy, textured something. Makes me question why they call her Little Debbie; although, I gather calling her “Deb the Obese” doesn’t have the same marketing sparkle. Skinny Cheetos or good ‘ol fashioned Fritos were usually packed as well. C’mon, you gotta have some salt with that sugar!

Now, I wasn’t a complete slob; my lunch did contain some nutritional value. I loved grapes. I actually still love grapes but I prefer them fermented and in a glass. I would maybe have a handful of them and then would whip the rest at a boy I liked or whoever pissed me off on that particular morning. Also, I did get some vitamin C from my Ecto Cooler Hi-C juice box. I’m not even going to knock Ecto Cooler. I wish I had some now. It’s delicious.

It’s pretty jarring realizing you probably didn’t have a nutritional lunch for the majority of your young life. Even if my mom had packed me a nutritional lunch, I probably wouldn’t have eaten it. I’m not sure if it was my eight-year-old palate or lack of food education. Probably a little bit of both. It’s nice to see nutritional awareness in the lunchroom is on the rise these days, but the government still considers ketchup a vegetable. American youth may still be screwed.

Did you pack your lunch, too? What sort of things did you bring? Were you choices as ridiculous as mine? Love to hear some feedback.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A Hot Lunch for a Quarter and a Nickel

In the last blog post, I talked about the lunches I brought to school. From the middle of 5th grade through high school, I went to the same school (a centralized school district that incorporated primary and secondary in one sprawling building).

Hot lunches were served daily. Hot lunches that were prepared daily. Hot lunches that came from the often smelled but never seen back rooms behind the cafeteria counters.

Now the current interest in quality ofschool lunches that is championed by people like the First Lady Michelle Obama and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, is not a new thing. President Truman signed the The Nation School Lunch Act.  This Act, which has been in place, albeit with modifications, since 1946. Interesting sidebar—this legislation came about because of the concern about how many young men who enlisted in World War II were malnourished.

This law “provides for meals based on tested nutritional standards, include all children, prohibits discrimination of any type and provides funds for non-surplus foods and requires accountability through record keeping and reporting.”

Back to my experience of hot lunches. By the time I reached junior and senior high school, I was often given the 30 cents a day to buy my lunch at school.

I may have been the only student in the school who actually liked some of the lunches.  Maybe even loved them.  Every week, a menu would be printed and distributed to all for the next week. Usually the menus were repeated every third week.

This may not be the exact recipes but it was probably close.
I don’t remember all of the menu items, but several stick in my head.  Fridays, of course, there was fish, out of deference to the Catholic population in the town. So often they’d serve a square breaded fish patty. This was topped with tarter sauce and nestled up to a small mound of mashed potatoes with a pool of melted butter in the middle. The menu said it was butter. I’m pretty sure that golden liquid wasn't just butter but was some mixture of butter and oil.  I don’t remember what kind of vegetable this would be paired with. Maybe cooked corn.

I loved the fish and probably that was because I never got cooked fish at home. My mother was allergic to fish and would not have it in the house, other than tins of tuna, which evidently she wasn’t allergic to. So the only time I would get fish was at school, or at a restaurant the once r twice we might go out to eat each year.

This pizza burger looks better than my school offered.

The most frustrating menu option came when they offered either a sloppy joe or a pizza burger.  Oh the dilemma. I loved them both.  The sloppy joe was served on two halves of a toasted hamburger roll.  Knife and fork to eat that one.  The pizza burger, a little tomato sauce topped with cheese on two halves of a hamburger bun and put in the broiler. This one didn’t demand utensils. You could pick them up and eat with your fingers.

I confess. I probably liked the cafeteria food because my mother was a unwilling and often boring cook.  So the school lunch gave me tastes I didn’t always get at home.

Were there are hot lunches that you had in school that you liked?  (Don’t over think this—this is not, would you like it now!)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What's in the Box?

Back to school time brings up memories of school lunches from when I was young. A confession here. For me that was quite a long time ago—I entered school in the mid-1950s.

I did have a lunch box when I was in primary school. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t brand new. Certainly my mother found one somewhere for me, cleaned out the inside and declared as good as new.  What was on that lunch box I do not remember. What I do remember was what was inside.

For the first four grades of school I don’t know if there was a hot lunch program. All I knew was that I always carried my lunch.

Most often it was a bologna sandwich. With cheese. Now this wasn’t a slice of cheddar or swiss. No. What was always on the sandwich was Velveeta cheese.

Now you may think of Velveeta cheese as a variation of Mac and Cheese that comes in a box.

In the 1950s it was, at least in my house, what we knew as cheese.  The only cheese. It was great for making macaroni and cheese, because it melted so well.  And for grilled cheese sandwiches, for the same reason.

Velveeta came in a one or two pound log. It was a little difficult to slice for a sandwich. Because it was not really solid, you couldn't get even slices no matter how hard you tried.

Velveeta is owned by Kraft Foods and back in the 1950s, when I was lunching on it with my bologna, it was considered very nutritious. The American Medical Association gave its seal of approval.

It was, and still is, a processed cheese food product.  The name came from how velvety smooth it was.

Argh. It’s painful to admit, but that is what I knew as cheese as a child.  I never had deli cheese. Always Velveeta. It was cheap. And good for you,  according to the AMA.

So my lunchbox would most likely have a waxed paper wrapped bologna and Velveeta sandwich, on white bread with a little mayonnaise and a little mustard. Sometimes a leaf of iceberg lettuce.

Dessert was most likely some kind of baked good. It might be a chocolate chip cookies. Or a slice of chocolate cake.  And although those were tasty, nothing was quite as good in my memory as the Tastykake pies my mother would slip in my lunchbox.  That only lasted a couple of years when she was working three jobs while taking care of a family as well.

My mother would press a nickel in my hand every week. Milk money.  We could buy small bottles of milk for a penny.  The nickel was good for a week of milks.

So that was my “nutritious lunch.”  And there was some trading going on, but I think I didn’t usually find someone interested in my humble lunch.

Did your mother send you to school with a lunch? What was in it?