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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

School Lunch Nostalgia

My kids are teenagers now--and thus entirely too cool to pack a lunch and take it to school.  But for years I got up every morning and packed their lunches.  Mostly because they are picky eaters--but also because the school lunch menu was truly horrid around here at one time.  I mean, who says nachos and cheese is a healthy main course option?

Luckily--since it's not cool to pack any longer--things have changed a little.  The schools still offer pepperoni pizza and hot dogs every danged week.  Sigh.  But they've ditched the nachos and added some better choices such as yogurt and fruit, quiche and chef salad.  Most of it still comes from a can or bag, though, and that's what makes me nostalgic.

Am I the only one who remembers when lunch ladies actually cooked?  I'm not that old.  But I remember our stomachs growling at the good smells wafting down the hall as the morning wore on.  I remember meat loaf that was mixed by hand and not pulled from the freezer.  The chicken might have been the cheap cuts, but it was seasoned and roasted right there.  I'm guessing the whipped potatoes might have come from a box, but the biscuit dough was from scratch and my favorite lunch was when they wrapped it around roast beef, baked it and poured gravy over the whole thing.  :-)

I know that the same set up is impossible in these days of budget cuts and in the face of so many other school concerns, but indulge me as I exercise my imagination.  Wouldn't it be great if the school lunch rooms were fully staffed with plenty of time and money?  I can see a cafe-topia where the nutritionist has dumped the pizza and hot dogs and everyone regards it as a challenge to come up with fresh, wholesome ways to tempt even the picky eaters.

What about you?  Do you yawn your way through multiple PB&J mornings?  Do your kids eat nachos for lunch?  Did your cafeteria workers cook for you, back in the day?  What was your favorite lunch?


26 comments:

  1. Not PB&J but Vegemite. I loathe that stuff but my youngest son got corrupted by his dad and now its an everyday thing. When I was a kid, the best I could hope for was a nice feshly made egg and lettuce sandwich or a fresh salad roll. I know they were fresh because mum volunteered on canteen -- so embarrassing when she chats away to your boyfriend. LOL

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    1. I hear so much about Vegemite, Heather, but I've never had the opportunity to try it. I've vowed that I will get over there--and I'm going to give it a go!

      Also, my aunt was one of the lunch ladies in our elementary school. I actually kind of liked her being there--but she never chatted with my boyfriend! :-)

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  2. Deb ~ You know what picky little diva I can be. Sadly, it was always that way. I remember *buying* lunch at school; but I don't remember *eating* it. Pretty sure I turned my nose up at anything that was placed before me and then dumped it in the trash. LOL. I've been known to do that as an adult from time to time too. :) Old habits, and all that.

    What I do remember about school lunches was the free time away from class, the opportunity to gossip...er...talk to my friends who I didn't see in my classes. Well... except for the first day of school, when my nerves were all bundled in my stomach, worrying that I wouldn't know anyone during my scheduled lunch and I'd end up being by myself all year. That never happened, but the fear was always there on that first day.

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  3. Yes, lunch became more fun, the older we got, didn't it? Plus, everyone was thrilled when we hit middle school--salad bar!

    Lunch in my Eldest's high school is a whole 'nuther thing! They all have lunch together and have free roam of the school...

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  4. I do not recall a day when the school lunch ladies actually COOKED the lunch. This sounds like a foreign concept to me, actually. It was all out of a bag and popped in the oven to be heated...and it was gross. Like, seriously gross. Like Ava, I tended to buy it, but not really eat much of it. I was one of those rare kids who wished that my mom would pack a lunch for me, because it would be better. But she didn't have the money or the time to pack lunches, so instead I had to eat whatever I could salvage from the lunch line.

    My favorite day was Friday, because it meant pizza (brought in from a pizza place, so it was actually edible!) and ice cream (hello, Orange Dream!). Friday was one of the few days I actually ate anything...and of course, it was really not good for me...but at least I ate something.

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  5. I'm, ahem, old enough to remember when they cooked lunches at school. There were colorful Melmac trays divided into different sized spaces for the food. There was always a main course and a choice of veges, but rarely anything "fresh." My favorite food in those days was hamburger, and they served it often. Good memories.

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    1. Hey LJ!

      Crap, I feared it was a function of age! :-) And yes, we had those trays too. Not the paper ones they have today...

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  6. Awww...this is how I fear most kids feel today too, Catherine. :-( Isn't it a nice fantasy--that feeding our kids when they are off feeding their brains could be a calling instead of what it has become?

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  7. Hi Deb! I remember cooked lunches too. My mom didn't pack my lunch, so I ate the hot lunch at school. Sometimes they had bagged lunches you could buy and I LOVED those (why does PB&J taste so much better when they make it as opposed to when I make it?). I pack lunch for my kids and though I try to keep it at least somewhat healthy, sometimes it's easy to throw in some Doritos and cookies--especially when I'm packing three of the dang things at 6:30 in the morning, BEFORE my coffee. They're just lucky I don't accidentally pack the dog. ;}

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    1. Hee. Poor puppy!

      I feel your pain. I've done the 6am PB&J more times than a person should have to count.

      And I don't know what it is, but I've reached the point where ANYTHING somebody else cooks tastes better than if I cook. Except school lunch...

      :-)

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    2. Everything tastes better when someone else makes it! (Well, if it's something I like. I don't have to eat, after all.)

      I pack my son's lunch too. I send him healthy food to eat (but I suspect he trades food with others because I'll find wrappers in his lunch box that came off of something I didn't buy.) You can lead a horse to water...

      What I find sad, however, is that for some kids the hot lunch at school is the best meal they get a day. :(

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  8. I fix my kids' lunches every morning, Deb. But we also eat organic/natural food. :)

    The school lunches are truly horrendous and according to a study I read it costs the SAME to provide healthy lunches as it does that crap they serve. But the cafeteria workers would have to be trained and taught how to cook. Which is sad in itself.

    BTW that same study also showed that eating healthier (homecooked) foods actually helped kids' behavior and grades improve. The study was even done at one of those alternative schools with little to no budget and the "worst of the worst" kids as the student body. Don't get me started. ;p

    Anyway, I remember not that long ago (10 years, I think) that one of the schools where I taught 2nd grade had homecooked lunches. They had the best biscuits, desserts and side dishes. OMGosh! Yummy!

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    1. It just seems like it would be doable and definitely preferable, doesn't it Marquita? But after the bus debacle around here the last few days, it's probably not the time to bring it up...

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  9. I can't remember the lunches ever being tasty at my schools. I know until the middle of junior high we had "home cooked" meals. I don't know how much was from scratch, but it was a well-rounded meal. Then they added the option of a fast line, or something to that effect. It's sad to say, but I ate fries with nacho cheese on them nearly every day. Fortunately, I was very active and ate healthy meals at home. I think one of the problems for some kids today is they aren't getting the same amount of exercise and eating healthy at other times either. :(

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  10. Are you cringing, remembering it now, Samantha? LOL. But our young bodies can forgive so much that we'd never get away with now!

    You are right though. There are kids who are counting on school meals, which is why they should be better!

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  11. This seems like such a no-brainer to me. The schools have great kitchens. It wouldn't be hard to teach the staff that is already there how to cook. Geez. The crap they serve isn't edible, and half the time it is expired. And sorry, govt officials, but Ketchup is not a vegetable! I hate to say it but I think it's more about giving contracts to the food companies then it is about our children's nutrition. I made my kid's lunch in high school because there was no way they could make it through the line to get the awful stuff before the bell would ring. Luckily my daughter likes to eat healthy so she ate a lot of those little hummus cups with veggies and a cheese stick. And yes, I remember metal trays and cooked lunches. I remember hating hominy but loving the mashed potatoes. And my 9th grade school made the most incredible giant cinnamon rolls for breakfast. They made me want to get to school early. Great topic, it's really pushed my buttons!!! :)

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    1. Pizza is not a vegetable either, but I think it's been labeled as such, which is why they offer it every week!

      I remember one of my favorite episodes of Top Chef was when they had to prepare school lunch for kids. That's the way it should be--tempting, tasty, whole food!

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  12. I went to a private elementary school, and the cafeteria was excellent. We had pot roast with mashed potatoes (real ones), chili, taco salad, salisbury steak, etc. When I switched to public school, I was horrified by the state of the lunch room, so I brought my lunch until high school. My high school's lunch situation was strange. We had the normal cafeteria where all the poor kids had to eat, and we had a hamburger grill run by the associated student body that offered a cheap, but tasty, hamburger, bag of chips, and can of soda for $2. The line was outrageous. We also had a taco bell that offered a limited menu. It horrifies me now to think how many servings of taco bell nacho supreme I consumed in those four years...

    My husband and I cook for our kids at home, and it's actually so much less expensive to prepare healthy at-home meals than to eat out. I don't understand why, as a society, we haven't made a triumphant return to home-cooked food.

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    1. I suspected that we might hear that it's private schools that are doing a good job with this. I'm laughing at the nacho supremes, though!

      I think my horrific over-indulgence in high school lunch was Italian Hoagies. They offered great ones in the alternate, quick line....I must have eaten my fill, because I haven't had one in years!

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    2. Mmmmm hoagies! If private schools can't manage a healthy and tasty lunch program, there's a real problem! My school was K-12, but there were still no more than 350 students total. Our tuition covered about half of the cost of feeding us, and for the rest of it, they charged $1.50 for a full meal and milk (the only available beverage choice besides water). They offered one option per day, and they distributed the planned menus one week in advance so parents could plan. My sister wouldn't touch the chili, so my mom always made a lunch for her on chili day.

      That sort of thing is easy to manage when you have so few students overall. In the public school system, it's a lot more difficult. Not only are there more students to wrangle, there are more instances of allergies, intolerance, etc. that have to be considered when a school is publicly funded.

      My kids aren't in school yet, but I plan to prepare lunches for them and hope like mad that they actually eat them!

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  13. I have to say, we never had yummy smells wafting from my cafeteria! My lunchtime memories involve 12 years of brown bagging it :) turkey and Swiss, carrots, grapes, boiled eggs- my parents always packed yumminess for me. And I was entirely too selfish to be too cool for the brown bag, lol!

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    1. You, go, EK! :-) At first I was relieved not to have to pack lunches, but now I'm wishing they would take them...

      And this year, Eldest can go off campus...which is a whole 'bother peck of trouble! :-)

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  14. I have to say, we never had yummy smells wafting from my cafeteria! My lunchtime memories involve 12 years of brown bagging it :) turkey and Swiss, carrots, grapes, boiled eggs- my parents always packed yumminess for me. And I was entirely too selfish to be too cool for the brown bag, lol!

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  15. Hi Deb!

    I obviously grew up in a different day and age! I never went to a school that had a cafeteria! In grade school we not only walked to school but walked home for lunch and then walked back to the school which was over a mile away! Since there weren't any buses and you either had to walk or take a "public" bus I can only remember one "snow day" being called to "cancel school"!

    In High School they didn't have a cafeteria either and if you couldn't walk home you packed your own lunch and either ate it outside or if it was raining or snowing sat in the bleachers in the gym! In High School you couldn't buy something to drink (that's why the invented thermoses) but they did have a "vending" machine that sold apples!

    When my sons were growing up the rule was if you didn't want me to pack you a lunch you'd better have a job to pay for a "school lunch"! We had a better thing to do with our money - pay the mortgage! School lunch money may not have been that much at the time but it did help us to pay off our mortgage in 25 years while our friends who now had to think about paying for college still had debt hanging over them.

    Now more than ever with all the "junk" food sold in school cafeterias I'm surprised more people aren't taking the time "make lunch at home"!

    My sons became quite proficient at not only "making lunch" but cooking as well as sewing, ironing and cleaning dishes. My daughter-in-laws love me!

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  16. Hey Jeanne,

    I'll bet your daughters in law do love you! Yay for you, for raising self sufficient boys! We are in the phase now, of teaching the boys how to cook, and convincing them that they are capable of picking up after themselves. :-)

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  17. What memories! Our lunch ladies cooked (grade/middle school anyway). They made the best beef stew. I still crave it sometimes. Our kids were only allowed to buy lunches one day a week so we could control what they were eating, well, as much as we could. They would read the menu ahead of time and decide what day they wanted hot lunch, if any.

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