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Waxing Nostalgic Over School Lunches


ruthcooks
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In first grade (think WWII) my first lunch was two tuna salad on hamburger buns and two pieces of homemade angel food cake.

 

Middle grades I ate at a little cafe about a block from the school.  Food varied.  I remember dishes of REAL mashed potatoes and gravy (ten cents) and a sandwich, or two hot dogs and two popsicles.  There was also another restaurant, owned by a friend's grandmother, but all I remember about that was watching my friend picking the tomatoes out of her chili, and chicken and dumplings plate lunches.

 

High school, in the 50s, I always packed my lunches.  A thermos of Campbell's tomato soup and an orange figured largely, as I was usually on a diet.  School cafeteria was built by then, but was not operating until after I graduated.

 

 I attended all twelve grades in the same building.  Pre-school and kindergarten were still in the future.

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Ruth Dondanville aka "ruthcooks"

“Are you making a statement, or are you making dinner?” Mario Batali

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The only year I took my lunch to school was 6th grade when I had to take several buses and then a trolley to school in Toronto - and it took an hour or so each way, so I could not walk home for lunch as I did in all the other grades from kindergarten to grade 12. PB was not allowed in my house (my father was certain it causes cancer) so I think I must have had a lot of tuna, salmon and cheese sandwiches (not all those together) and the occasional thermos of Campbell's finest. I am a bit vague on those but that was the stuff we ate at home for lunch, day in and day out. I didn't attend a school with any sort of cafeteria till I went to university.

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Thing, is I remember in third grade home ec we made some really tasty things, thinking of fried corn meal mush and (real) maple syrup.  Makes me wish I had some now.

 

By sixth grade I was in an orphanage, so I was happy for any calories I could have.  If you don't understand this, just read Dickens.

 

 

Edit:  really.

Edited by JoNorvelleWalker (log)
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Actually, our school cafeterias in the late 60's and early 70's in VT weren't bad, especially compared to what I got at home at the time.

 

There was a law in place that compelled them to use real butter in support of local dairies. That was the first place I tasted real butter, and always have some on hand until this day. There was a European influence to the food, and I looked forward to cottage pie days, although they called it shepherd's, and it was made with instant mashed potato flakes. I make it still with beef, corn and instant mash, like they did. I jazz mine up a little with onion and grated carrot sauteed with the ground beef. I've tried it with real mashed potatoes, and and it just doesn't hit my comfort food spot as much. Nothing on offer was really horrible, but it might be explained by the fact that we were very rural and had access to lots of local foods. When we wanted anything from a dishtowel to a saddle to a lawnmower, we ordered from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. There was a little order pickup station/mini-warehouse in town with limited hours, but no retail store.

 

I was really in heaven when one of my friends (also frequently on the honor roll) turned me on to the fact that you could get free lunch if you worked in the cafeteria. This allowed me to keep my lunch money, which was only 35 cents a day, but I could go to the snack bar with my friends and get something like they all did. It made me feel more like a regular person. It was a windfall to me, because it was the only money I ever got. Bonus: I got to spend time working with my friend.

 

You could always get free seconds on some items like buttered bread even if you were paying, but if you worked in the kitchen, you had access to the best leftovers.  :biggrin:

 

We kid workers weren't allowed to cook anything really. Occasionally, one of us might be asked to stir a huge vat of soup or something, but most of what we did was wash dishes and sweep up. We were never on the front serving lines, so most of our fellow students never saw us wearing the horrible hairnets that were required or even knew we worked in the kitchen. Our lunch ladies were very kind. I really enjoyed my time in the cafeteria kitchen with the huge Hobart mixers, monster ovens and other things that were fascinating to me. :smile:

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> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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We never bought our lunches in the school cafeteria...that cost money we didn't have. 

When we got old enough to make our own brown bag lunches, we were on our own. If we didn't like our lunches, we only had ourselves to blame since we were the ones making it. Lunch boxes that came with a thermos were used when we were much younger but the thermos always easily broke so they were all ditched rather early on.

I tended to like cheese sandwiches made with Miracle Whip ( :raz:) on white bread. With our sandwich, we always included some sort of potato chip or Fritos followed by the ubiquitous piece of fruit.

 

edited to add that we could buy a carton of milk at school during lunch. I seem to remember the low price of 7 cents (subsidized, I believe) for a small carton. They also sold small bags of shelled and salted Planters Peanuts but they were more expensive...a whole quarter, I believe.

Edited by Toliver (log)
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Did anyone else's school have the Lunch Count ritual at the beginning of the day, just after the teacher took attendance? The teacher would ask those who were going to buy lunch to stand up. Then those students would sit down, and the teacher would ask those who were just going to buy milk to stand. At some point the ritual was amended to add a request for those who wanted skim milk (with lunch, or just as milk) to raise their hands. Ostensibly, this was so the cafeteria (which still actually cooked) would know how much food to prepare each day. I know I usually brought my lunch (and did NOT get milk to go with it, ick!) but I can't remember much about what I brought.

 

The year I went to fifth grade, I switched into a private school where everyone's lunch was included, and those of us who were old enough to be trustworthy were actually served on trays with real breakable dishes and glasses and the like. The year I went into ninth grade, the school proudly announced that tuition was not going up this year, but that lunch was no longer included. That was when I basically quit eating lunch.

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MelissaH

Oswego, NY

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We didn't have an actual lunch room until 6th grade but even then there was no food service. The "genius" idea was vending machines.  As a novelty we were occasionally allowed to purchase from the shiny dispensers. We were NOT allowed to buy candy bars (apparently only for the high schoolers and staff). But.....we could get a scalding hot can of spaghetti (FrancoAmerican I think), attempt to jostle it over to the can opener and then eat it out of the can without needing medical attention. Of course if one was feeling under the weather there was the machine with hot bouillon which I associate with hospital waiting rooms.

 

One year they brought in what was then known as a catering truck which at the time one usually saw in the parking lots of manufacturing plants. I recall tacos that were a clone of those old super greasy Jack in the Box bombs. 

Edited by heidih (log)
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In elementary school (grades K-6 back in those days) I used to go through stages of going home for lunch or taking lunch to school with me. I remember those lunchboxes. Mine had a metal hook that used to hold the thermos in place so it wouldn't move around. When I brough my lunch it was almost always a tuna fish sandwich, I think my mother was able to stretch one can of tuna to make a sandwich for each of the three of us. (On Wonder Bread. Was there anything else back then?) Milk in the thermos. Once my mother put soda in my thermos, and of course it fizzed up all over the place. The best was when my mother gave us potato chips for dessert (a handful wrapped in a paper napkin), since of course nothing beats a tuna fish and potato chip sandwich. In junior high school (grades 7-9) we were no longer permitted to go home for lunch. I don't remember a cafeteria, but there must have been one. I had the same lunches, but at this point we were all much too cool for the lunchboxes, so we broght lunch in brown paper bags. High school had a cafeteria where we could buy food. I know I did, but I have no memory whatsoever of what I bought. (Except for the glazed donuts.)

 

A few years ago the NY Public Library had an exhibit called "Lunch Hour NYC." It went through the history of lunch in NY, from the pushcarts to the restaurants and the Automat, school lunches, etc. It was a wonderful exhibit. At the school lunch section, one wall was devoted to lunch boxes! An entire wall of all the different designs and patterns on those square metal lunchboxes we grew up with. It was very nostalgic to find "my" lunchbox up there -- red and black plaid. (It was before they started putting super heroes and TV stars on lunchboxes. Yes, I'm that old.) 

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Many, many years ago, when I was in primary school, a classmate and I decided to compare packed lunches. This developed into regular sandwich  swapping sessions as I tried his and he tried mine.

 

For him things like cheese and tomato, or ham and salad were esoteric delights. I didn't realise it until many years later, but his family were pretty poor, but father was, to cut to the chase, a prolific poacher. 

 

So his sandwiches were full of venison, wild duck, pheasant, partridge, rabbit, salmon (I thought salmon were made by a man called John West and only lived in cans), etc, all of which he thought boring compared to my egg mayonnaise.

 

The only time I recall being less than thrilled was the swan sandwiches. Eating swan in the UK is technically treason! It is also extremely stupid. The taste is disgusting. I still remember it more than 50 years later!

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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(On Wonder Bread. Was there anything else back then?)

 

There certainly was in our house.  What my grandmother called "that ol' cotton bread" wasn't allowed in her house, or in ours.

 

Our sandwich bread was Roman Meal. 

 

Anybody else remember that?

Edited by Jaymes (log)
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There certainly was in our house.  What my grandmother called "that ol' cotton bread" wasn't allowed in her house, or in ours.

 

Our sandwich bread was Roman Meal. 

 

Anybody else remember that?

I remember Roman Meal, which is what my mom bought for sandwich bread. I always wanted white bread, but my mom insisted on something that at least looked brown.

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MelissaH

Oswego, NY

Chemist, writer, hired gun

Say this five times fast: "A big blue bucket of blue blueberries."

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There certainly was in our house.  What my grandmother called "that ol' cotton bread" wasn't allowed in her house, or in ours.

 

Our sandwich bread was Roman Meal. 

 

Anybody else remember that?

I do. Our household ate white bread (never Wonder Bread, because it was too expensive; we had Rainbo Bread instead) but when my grandparents came to visit from Fresno we pulled out all the stops: Roman Meal bread, and half-and-half for Papa's coffee.

I think Toliver and I must have gone to school in the same time and region; his lunchroom experience sounds very much like mine.

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Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
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We usually had Roman Meal for sandwiches, too.  Assuming it was available from the "Day-Old Bread Store" where all our baked goods came from.  I had the same experience reported upthread of being put off the egg salad sandwiches that I liked by the, "Ewwww, stinky!  Who's got the egg sandwiches?" comments of my peers. 

 

Like MelissaH, I remember the daily "lunch counts."  We were asked to raise our hand if we planned to purchase lunch from the cafeteria, the teacher recorded the total and our room number on a slip of paper and dispatched a student to the cafeteria.  This duty was highly coveted as it offered the opportunity to dilly dally in the halls for as long as one could.  I think the teachers got dinged if their count was late as they seemed to find the whole thing an annoyance that got in the way of teaching.

 

Cafeteria lunches were an occasional treat for us.  25 cents when I was in third grade and I think inflation had pushed it up to 65 cents by the time I graduated from high school.  The elementary and high school shared the same cafeteria.  All the meals, including soups were cooked on-site by the cafeteria ladies. There was a fair usage of canned fruits and vegetables but the mid-winter fresh produce aisles in the grocery stores were pretty sparce at that time in the wilds of northern NY.  I think they did a decent job of serving hot, nourishing meals with what they had to work with. 

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I don't remember my elementary school lunches, but the high school lunches stuck in my mind. We had a small cafeteria with no more than two or three mains, but the starch was always french fries. The memorable thing was we would go up and order a 25 cent plate of fries and gravy OR a 20 cent plate OR a 15 cent plate OR 50 cent plate etc. Basically we counted our change and thats what we ordered. The cool thing was the lunch ladies just gave us the same amount unless we went for the 15 cent order or the 50 cent one. I often thought (later), that they judged how hungry we looked or did they need to get rid of their supply.

This was back in the 60's at a private school, when times were more relaxed and the almighty dollar was just a flicker in the future. I'm sure some cafeterias sell by strict weight/volume...I wonder if that applies to bananas!

p

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I'd forgotten about lunch count - up to about 3rd grade3 it was just as Melissa described. Then my school switched to a system of colored sticks (like popsicle sticks) - when you came in in the morning you picked out the appropriate color and put it in a can - one color for full lunch, another for just milk, etc. 

I brought my lunch through elementary and junior high. Usually either bologna or tuna (not tuna salad - just plain tuna) on white bread. I don't ever remember mayonnaise in our house - to this day my brothers won't eat anything containing mayo. (And one brother is 81 years old - some habits never die). I usually also had carrot sticks and fruit. A special day was when Mom gave me  6 cents for ice cream.

In 11 and 12th grades we were allowed to leave school for lunch. However, I was in band and band met during the extended lunch/study hall period - so those of us in band had, literally, 20 minutes for lunch. If you ran, you could get to the diner across the street, scarf down something, listen to the Beatles on the jukebox, and run back to play Sousa marches for 45 minutes. This is when I discovered mayonnaise - tuna salad on toast was my favorite. I still vaguely associate Sousa with indigestion. But eating in the cafeteria was SO uncool.

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If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. Cicero

But the library must contain cookbooks. Elaina

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My mom made good lunches and once in a while I make tuna salad like she did.  We had Hough (Cleveland) Bakery bread with Velveeta cheese and Miracle Whip, sometimes with baloney.  Sometimes tuna salad with celery.  Sometimes Fritos, never potato chips.  A piece of fruit, never anything sweet.

 

No problem, really.

 

But what I HATED (and don't forget the theme of this thread is Weird or Icky) is the red plaid lunchbox fondly mentioned upstream.

 

Because this was the late 60's and the culture had already passed into the Partridge Family lunchbox and the That Girl lunchbox and whatever the hip and happening zeitgeist that year was.

 

I had my freakin' red plaid lunchbox.  My mom setting me up for failure was a recurring theme in my childhood.

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But what I HATED (and don't forget the theme of this thread is Weird or Icky) is the red plaid lunchbox fondly mentioned upstream.

 

Because this was the late 60's and the culture had already passed into the Partridge Family lunchbox and the That Girl lunchbox and whatever the hip and happening zeitgeist that year was.

 

I had my freakin' red plaid lunchbox.  My mom setting me up for failure was a recurring theme in my childhood.

Ah, what a difference a few years can make! I was in elementary school in the early sixties. Lunchboxes hadn't evolved yet.  :laugh:

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Ah, what a difference a few years can make! I was in elementary school in the early sixties. Lunchboxes hadn't evolved yet.  :laugh:

I was in elementary school in the early to mid 50's - I distinctly remember a Dale Evans and Roy Rogers lunchbox. Not mine - I coveted it.

Edited by ElainaA (log)
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If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need. Cicero

But the library must contain cookbooks. Elaina

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I was in elementary school in the early to mid 50's - I distinctly remember a Dale Evans and Roy Rogers lunchbox. Not mine - I coveted it.

Apparently they do go back a while. I don't remember TV lunchboxes at all. But they're still great to look at. Worth a small fortune, some of them.

 

https://www.google.com/search?q=metal+lunch+boxes+vintage&biw=1366&bih=622&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0CF0Q7AlqFQoTCLDVxfnKu8cCFQObHgod2MYB4A&dpr=1

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As far as I can remember I ate the food served at the school cafeteria from elementary to high school. I must have taken a lunch early in elementary school cuz I still have my Zorro lunch box. But if don't recall much besides standing in the lunch line in school

Edited by scubadoo97 (log)
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cakewalk,

 

Thanks for that link to vintage metal lunch boxes!

 

There's even a photo of the plaid one many have mentioned on here.

 

I had a metal lunch box, too, but I can't remember the details, and none of the photos stirred my memory.

 

Edit:

 

The black domed ones look like those carried by Loretta Lynn's dad and the rest of the miners in "Coal Miner's Daughter".

Edited by Thanks for the Crepes (log)

> ^ . . ^ <

 

 

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Ah, the lunch count. Haven't thought about that in 45 years.

There was a real rivalry between the HS band and the football team in the caf. They'd slam an apple into somebody's soup. Hated that. Somebody got to talking smack (though it wasn't called that at the time) and challenged the JV team to a football game. We thought we'd get killed. Nope, we beat them by a nose. God must've intervened, but we won. The cafeteria harassment abated a bit,although fruit would still fly occasionally.

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  • 4 weeks later...

f I did not get to my lunch box before my dear step mother ..shew ould take her glass of white wine with an ice cube into the kitchen and start packing it for me ..she was sweet, beautiful  and teetering …looses all touch with reality and food with "wine time"

my lunches consisted of 

a white bread bologna sandwich

smear of mustard or ketchup 

and then she put it in my "Get Smart" lunchbox.. added an apple ..no wrapper on the sandwich by the way..then if she was in the mood a great big dill pickle hand full of chips or once she threw some martini onions because she was out of pickles ..and heaven forbid we had a cupcake or something it went in as well .no wrappers on anything…….then the thermos with the milk and slam it shut put it in the fridge 

 

yup when I wax nostalgic thinking of packed school lunches and the smell of my lunch box  I remember learning how to pack a good one EARLY! and fast! before "wine time" 

 

 

I did send her back my retainer when she packed my lunch after "wine time" 

Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)
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