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!)


  1. Shirley Wendt NagelAugust 21, 2013 at 9:06 PM

    I got to buy lunch on Fridays--which were also meatless at my high school. I think I bought the exact same thing almost every single Friday: Tomato Rice Soup (which very well might have been a Campbell's product--definitely not Progresso Tomato Basil!) which was followed by a peppermint ice cream cone (sugar cone and a super sweet pink ice cream with candy pieces in it). I probably got my full weekly quota of salt and sugar in that lunch---but back then I actually had a metabolism!

    No school lunches in grade school, by the way. Everybody walked home for lunch (not many working moms in the 50's). There was a VERY small cohort of kids who stayed at school for lunch (obviously nobody home to meet them, and I was just slightly jealous of their lifestyle!)--but they had to brown-bag it!

  2. Thanks Shirley. I don't think we had any fancy ice creams--just vanilla, chocolate, and neopolitan. Etta