Lunch Wars: School Lunches I Have Known

Book Discussion

As I read Amy Kalafa's Lunch Wars, I keep having flashbacks to school lunches I have loved. Or loathed. It depended on the day, really. It seems to me like a good place to start discussions about Lunch Wars -- the school lunches we have personally known.

My elementary school was ... well, it was a bit crunchy. I didn't realize this at the time. I don't think any of us did, it was just normal. Junk food was a big no-no. Bag of chips and a soft drink in our lunch? It got yanked, you got a school lunch and your parents got a phone call. Sure there were loopholes (chocolate-covered granola bar, anyone?) but basically we all went to school with semi-healthy lunches. Almost everyone brought their lunch, because our school didn't really have a hot lunch. Monday through Thursday there was some kind of soup for sale (I remember it mostly being chicken noodle), as well as cheese and crackers. The only beverage for sale was milk from a local dairy. Friday was hot dog day and on very special occasions there was frozen yogurt from a different local dairy. For one memorable year we also had soy nuts. (I really wasn't kidding about the crunchy thing.)


Image Credit: Dee Adams

We came to school with pretty healthy lunches, though I can't say what we chose to eat out of them was always healthy. There were a lot of tradesies, though the most in-demand item for trading was the homemade bread a classmate's mother made. To this day it's the still the best bread I've ever had. She'd bring it in her lunch with nothing on it but butter, and we offered her everything we could think of to get a piece of that goodness.

I was, and still can be, a picky eater when it comes to lunch. It isn't so much that I don't like things as much as I refuse to eat the same thing over and over again, and this includes sandwiches. A sandwich is a sandwich is a sandwich, and I don't care how many ways you try to dress it up, I don't want to eat a sandwich five days a week for ten months of the year. I don't want to eat anything that many days of the year.

My poor mother. How she tried to find anything at all that I'd eat in my lunch regularly. Some days I'd eat the pudding, some days I would not. (Sugar, it seems, was not even a guarantee with me.) Sometimes I'd eat the biscuits and peanut butter and other times they came back home with me. Ditto cheese and fruit. I was, quite simply, a pain in the butt that didn't eat much of anything.

No wonder the minute I got to junior high, where there was a hot lunch, she handed me money, told me it had to last a month and let me have at it. Most other kids made the switch to the hot lunch at the same time. The junior high and high school shared a cafeteria and thus began close to six years of fries, chips and soda for lunch. Or at least that's what it was most days. We were allowed to leave school grounds at lunch, so sometimes we went to Wendy's or the local pizza joint, but we kept it pretty simple. And fast. No one wanted to spend their lunch hour (or rather 48 minutes if we want to be exact) actually eating.

My last year of high school our school cafeteria went belly-up -- no more funds, no more food. A local pizza chain took it over for the rest of the year, so instead of fries there was now pizza and fries. Ok, that's unfair. The school caf, before it died, did try to offer other things, but most of their sales were fries. By this point, we had started to smarten up a little. We also had access to cars. A group of us started to go to a local bakery for lunch. We'd get subs on freshly baked bakery rolls or (non-greasy) pizza or sandwiches. Bonus? Homemade donuts that cost about $0.30 if we needed something sweet. We were eating healthier lunches than we probably had in years.

When I look back at my school lunches, I want to kick on my own butt. There was good food available -- I simply didn't eat it. I was an idiot, and I'm hoping I'm not the only one.

Don't worry, we'll talk about school lunches kids are eating today in other Book Club discussions, but I think this is a good place to start. What were your school lunches like when you were a kid?


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