Lunch in loud, brightly lit rooms
September 3, 2006 6:57 PM   Subscribe

Either you liked them or you didn't, but for 60 years, the National School Lunch Program has been feeding American school children low cost, nutritious meals. Personally, from the 1960's, in small town Kansas, I miss the fish sticks, the thick oil crust sheet pizza, and the corn bread. And subsidized milk, at 2 cents an 8 ounce carton.
posted by paulsc (87 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, for certain values of "nutritious." Salsa counting as a vegetable? Hot dogs? Chicken nuggets? At least they aren't getting turkey twizzlers...
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:07 PM on September 3, 2006

I guess we can put you down as "didn't" then, corpse?
posted by paulsc at 7:09 PM on September 3, 2006

My school lunches involved such delights as fish soup and blood pancakes. I would've _loved_ to have some o' them chicken nuggets.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:11 PM on September 3, 2006

Lunch Lady Land
posted by caddis at 7:11 PM on September 3, 2006

I really miss school lunch pizza. I recently visited the Franklin Institute with my girlfriend and was really happy to find that the pizza in their cafeteria was the same as what my school cafeteria always used to serve.

She didn't share in my nostalgia, though, and just found it to be barely edible.
posted by ducksauce at 7:12 PM on September 3, 2006

Hot Lunch Jam
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:14 PM on September 3, 2006

I encourage anyone who can find the episodes to watch Jamie's School Dinners, a four-part BBC series about the beginnings of Jamie Oliver's crusade to reform the British school lunch program. He has met with some success. I think the guy deserves to be knighted.
posted by solid-one-love at 7:15 PM on September 3, 2006

At least they aren't getting turkey twizzlers...

Exactly -- the bane of British lunches.

I applaud chef Jamie Oliver on his efforts to reform school lunch/dinner programs in England and here in the U.S.

Check out his Feed Me Better campaign.
posted by ericb at 7:18 PM on September 3, 2006

Or, what solid-one-love said!
posted by ericb at 7:19 PM on September 3, 2006

Ah, yes, fond memories of pizza and corn, with a little bowl of peanuts on the side.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:22 PM on September 3, 2006

And the weird jello salads...
posted by hattifattener at 7:29 PM on September 3, 2006

In my small Kansas home town, there were about 500 kids total in grades K-12, and on any given day, the vast majority of us, plus our teachers and school staff ate school lunch, although maybe 10% of us brown bagged it, or high school bad boys went 2 blocks over to Main Street to play snooker at the pool hall for half an hour, or get a burger at the Downtowner restaurant. But in those days, at about a buck, school lunch was, by far, the best meal deal in town.

And thanks to the 8 strong women who made school lunch every day, it was good, too. They were each good basic farm cooks, and mothers of kids we knew, but they stuck to the program's recipe books, and had school lunch ready, every day, on time, starting at 11:00 a.m. I think we generally had somewhat overcooked frozen vegetables, and food made for serving from a steam table to small kids is generally pretty bland. And yet, their baked mac 'n cheese is still the standard I judge competitors by, and they rotated sweet white corn bread and bacon flavored yellow cornbread with Silver Queen corn dishes (corn on the cob, creamed corn, corn mush, etc.) in ways whose memories still make my mouth water every September. And mostly every Tuesday, you could count on thick slices of mushroomy meat loaf smothered in brown gravy, like Mom wished she could make, proving each week that some foods are better, when made for 400.

Good times, not forgotten, again, as another September comes around.
posted by paulsc at 7:39 PM on September 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

When I was in kindergarten, I had my first encounter with public school lunches. One subsidized lunch cost $.70. For adults, it was $1.10.

I would love to have a nearby cafeteria with $1.10 complete meals, even if they classify ketchup as a vegetable.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:46 PM on September 3, 2006

I remember the disastrous year our milk came in plastic bags instead of cartons, and we were issued pointy straws with which to puncture said bags. If you punctured the wrong side, the bag split all the way open and filled at least two of the compartments on the plastic tray to the rim with milk. Usually this meant your dessert got soaked, but rarely you were blessed and it was the vegetable instead.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:49 PM on September 3, 2006

School lunches were great, and generally of a very decent quality in my Washington State public school experience.

I still miss the sheet pizza. We used to roll it up and dip it in ketchup, mustard, tartar sauce, etc...
posted by stenseng at 7:56 PM on September 3, 2006

Baked Mac n Cheese! Hell yea. No wonder my kids won't eat mine, I skipped the baking part!

I, sadly, was a brown bagger. Peanut butter and jelly for my first six years, every single day.
posted by snsranch at 7:57 PM on September 3, 2006

Further, I'd like to give a big shout out to all the public school food service workers (lunchladies) out there.

Also, big ups to the free and reduced lunches program, which I thankfully never had to use, but which kept many of my friends in public school fed, and able to learn.

The social safety net is awesome.
posted by stenseng at 8:00 PM on September 3, 2006

Ugh. I will never forget the pizza at my elementary school, no matter how hard I try.

Take one sheet of cardboard. Add something yellow and flavorless and douse with ketchup. Bake for some random amount of time at some random temperature -- no telling whether you'd get a ladelful of raw dough or a roof shingle -- and serve with corn and ice cream.

The ice cream was okay though. Little paper spoons built into the packaging. Cute.
posted by Foosnark at 8:02 PM on September 3, 2006

At least they aren't getting turkey twizzlers...

Hm. In the US, Twizzlers are a brand of second-rate licorice. You've brought a very strange image to mind.
posted by Foosnark at 8:04 PM on September 3, 2006

Subsidized food for school children is sinfully socialist.
Whats next???
Welfare for the ultra rich?
Oh yeah. . . Ken Lay ate Turkey Twizzlers twice a day.
posted by isopraxis at 8:07 PM on September 3, 2006

Hence the "me hearties" attack.
Y'all are fuzzeked.
posted by isopraxis at 8:09 PM on September 3, 2006

I don't remember milk being that cheap. It was 25¢ for the normal 2%, and 50¢ for chocolate. There was no fat-free or skim option. I do remember one school having a mini salad bar though, that was nice, only in California did I see that.
posted by Talanvor at 8:10 PM on September 3, 2006

There's a good article in this week's New Yorker about Ann Cooper, the executive chef of the Berkeley School District. Apparently schools get something called "commodities" from the Federal Government, which buys raw materials (often to help stabilize prices and reduce farm surplusses) and sends them to schools free of charge. I'm guessing this probably explains why my school had sloppy joes (ground beef), spaghetti with (ground beef) meat sauce, (ground beef) tacos, and (ground) beef with gravy over mashed potatoes nearly every week. Oh, and fish sticks on Friday, though I think I was the only person in the entire school that liked them.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:13 PM on September 3, 2006

"I do remember one school having a mini salad bar though, that was nice, only in California did I see that."

I first saw a school lunch salad bar in junior high. Greatest thing EVAR as far as I was concerned, school lunch-wise.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:15 PM on September 3, 2006

Sloppy Joes and tater tots beat the pants off the sheet pizza while serving to remind us that it was Thursday.
posted by horsewithnoname at 8:16 PM on September 3, 2006 [1 favorite]

After a lot of years of "brownbagging" and the occasional school lunch ( teacher speaking here). one of the great pleasures of retiremnt is to be able to eat lunch when I want (no more 22 1/2 minutes) and what I want.

Oh! the delicious BLT last week was better than any scool lunch in over 30 years of enduring them.
posted by melkozek at 8:17 PM on September 3, 2006

Wow. Great post, thanks!

My mom was a school-teacher, and for most of my elementary years, taught in the same school I attended. She was appalled by the quality of the lunches served by the lunch program at the schools, and insisted on making our lunches every day. I was always jealous of the kids who got to eat the program lunches.

[By the way, the first link actually links to a friend of mine. I love her blog. (Disclaimer: we are not especially close friends, and I'm not shilling for her. But she's a delightful person and an awesome writer and photographer: seriously, her blog is top-notch... read it for yourself and decide.)

Just mentioning it because it's always a happy surprise when my friends show up in the blue!]
posted by trip and a half at 8:29 PM on September 3, 2006

And lunch today will be a breadtangle of pizza.
posted by danb at 8:32 PM on September 3, 2006

American school lunches were FOUL, FOUL fucking stuff back in my 1970s childhood.

I hope they have improved since then.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:33 PM on September 3, 2006

There's a nice long article on school lunches (and modern, organic-y reform thereof) in this week's New Yorker. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be available online.

I never ate program lunches, but we always had 5 cents for milk. (I think when I started, it might have been 4 cents; I remember getting change). It wasn't until I went away to college and bought a carton of milk for 70 cents for the first time that I learned how expensive milk really was. I wish they subsidized milk for college students.
posted by anjamu at 8:36 PM on September 3, 2006

i guess the ones at my schools were ... um, edible ... for the most part ... there was this one day in junior high school, around 69 or 70, where they served something that was supposed to be a hamburger ... the "pattie" was a crumbly and dry collection of kibbles ... the "buns" seemed stale and when you seperated them little strings of SOMETHING were held suspended between the halves ... the kids started pounding their trays, whatever on the tables in imitation of an alka seltzer ad set in a prison that was current at the time ... no one ate them

it looked really gross ... fortunately, i was brown bagging it
posted by pyramid termite at 8:40 PM on September 3, 2006

In Tulsa, it was a very mixed bag, typically pretty foul stuff. Except bean chowder. Everyone loved bean chowder.

And Oklahoma is one place in the country (along with Memphis area) where you can get barbeque bologna. Bologna was cheap, so it was a constant staple on school lunch menus -- sitting in a pool of KC-style BBQ sauce. Before long, guys with smokehouses decided to hang some of the sausages up to cure, and that was that. A favorite of Elvis, BTW.
posted by dw at 8:45 PM on September 3, 2006

Oxford School - Berkeley CA

The Average Daily Lunch (1986)

- Chicken, broiled, in gravy, usually a breast piece with bones attached.
- Whole vitamin D milk
- Carrots
- Mashed Potatoes
- A frozen triangle of popsicle, very juicy.

Now, Berkeley has totally changed. I think the coolest thing was at King Middle School AKA Martin Luther King Jr. Junior High School, has a garden a la Alice Waters.

BTW: Anyone been in Joe's first and kindergarten class or with Mrs. Zoc at Oxford? Drop me a line.
posted by parmanparman at 8:47 PM on September 3, 2006

some foods are better, when made for 400.

I cut my kitchen teeth as a child being saddled with cooking duty for my largish family.

I cook my best when cooking for a group, and as a result cooking for one or two befuddles me--so I don't.

As a result, to this day, at least once a week my family is treated to a helping of my leftovers because I can only cook in quantity.
posted by sourwookie at 8:48 PM on September 3, 2006

My elementary school had no cafeteria. We ate in the gym. Meals were prepackaged in these rectangular, foil trays with cardboard tops. They were heated in a giant machine kept in the old fallout shelter. It wasn't really an oven, more like a giant steamer. You had no idea what was in there until you opened it. I loved the surprise of it all.

I remember that you had to pay for a week's worth in advance and they kept a list of the "hot lunch" kids for that week. This was to avoid singling out the kids on the free lunch program. I loved that school. Scenes from the movie Birdy were filmed there.
posted by jrossi4r at 8:49 PM on September 3, 2006

Great post, thanks. For tons of kids in my poor rural area, the school lunch is their one hot meal of the day.
posted by LarryC at 9:15 PM on September 3, 2006

i was home skooled. thats why i type so good and had split pea soup for lunch every day.
posted by nola at 9:29 PM on September 3, 2006

I remember getting the mimeographed menus at the beginning of the month and wondering what the hell "supervisor's choice" was.
posted by Biblio at 9:46 PM on September 3, 2006

From kindergarten all through Jr. high, the food I remember the best was the rolls. Buttery and with a hint of salt, that was the one sought-after food, without fail. We used to mooch or buy them off the girls who didn't want them. I even remember a fight over a roll at one point. As crappy as a lot of that food was, I've yet to find rolls in the real world that taste like that.
posted by zardoz at 10:55 PM on September 3, 2006

You can all laugh, but for a lot of kids in my school district, the free or reduced lunch is the best meal they get on a regular basis.
posted by SPrintF at 10:59 PM on September 3, 2006

"... As crappy as a lot of that food was, I've yet to find rolls in the real world that taste like that."
posted by zardoz at 1:55 AM EST on September 4 [+] [!]

Amen, zardoz. I'd kind of forgotten about those, but your comment pulled that warm, slightly sweet yeasty taste right back from memory.

My maternal grandmother baked bread regularly, as well as variations on basic bread, like cinnamon rolls, but we only saw her a few times a year, and my mother never baked. I learned to bake as a teenager mostly to enjoy fresh yeast breads whenever I wanted them. And school lunch yeast rolls, with plenty of sweet salted butter, on football Fridays in high school were a long tradition in my small Kansas town.
posted by paulsc at 11:17 PM on September 3, 2006

Our school lunches (mid-1970s) weren't five-star cuisine, but they weren't disgusting, either. I grew to love the Salisbury steak and meatloaf. The pizza was OK, but I hated Fridays which always meant some sort of meatless entree. Our milk was always two cents per carton, three cents if you wanted chocolate milk.

In junior high, it was very progressive...besides the hot lunch line, we had a "snack bar" line that offered milk shakes, cup cakes and bags of chips and Fritos. Far from healthy, but gave you that all-important sugar buzz to keep you awake during Algebra and Social Studies.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:37 PM on September 3, 2006

Oh yeah, and back in the 80's when the baked potato craze hit the country, my jr. high installed a potato/salad bar. Had to pay an extra 50 cents or so for that but it was worth it if the meal that day really sucked. Like the 3-way-chili-mac days.
posted by zardoz at 12:14 AM on September 4, 2006

There was an exceptional New Yorker article about this topic recently, it was about a well respected chef who decided to transform the Oakland school lunch system, much to the chagrin of the 8 year olds. Sadly, I cant find a link.
posted by mert at 5:52 AM on September 4, 2006

We had a salad bar as well (though it wasn't all that long ago). Our school also served breakfast in the morning (it was cheaper than the lunches, if I remember right) and if you were lucky, you showed up early and got a fresh cinnamon roll that was covered with the most amazing frosting in the world and was roughly the size of your face. Best way to start high school ever.
posted by craven_morhead at 5:54 AM on September 4, 2006

Let's not forget the mid morning snack of milk and graham crackers. The MaryJane to the Lunch program's Smack.
posted by Gungho at 5:55 AM on September 4, 2006

I wish they spent a little more money to make 'em taste better...
posted by delmoi at 6:03 AM on September 4, 2006

When we were in a school too small to have a kitchen (one room per grade, five grades... and we liked it!), warm lunch arrived in big insulated boxes in the back of a van. People with enough money paid full price (35 cents? 40 cents? I can't remember now) and people without paid in vouchers, but everyone had a shot at at least one complete meal a day.
posted by pracowity at 6:10 AM on September 4, 2006

I'm going to place myself firmly in the didn't camp. We'd get the menu a month at a time in grade school but if you picked hot lunch on Monday, that meant you had to take it the rest of the week. Every morning the teacher would punch our lunch cards during roll call. Normal kids got a pink lunch card and poor kids had a blue one. In high school it was pay as you go and the lunch period was approximately 25 minutes long, so 200 kids would line up, and when the bell rang, there were still kids in line. I started skipping lunch freshman year and never set foot in the cafeteria again. All of the food was atrocious. I remember everyone got either a cheeseburger, a sub sandwich' or that ghastly rectangular cut pizza that was seasoned with pepper. At some point we got vending machines and people just ate chips and soda. I'm grossed out just typing this. I guess I can thank the public school system for turning me off of processed food.
posted by pieoverdone at 6:21 AM on September 4, 2006

Last year I worked in a Texas public elementary school and ate school lunch nearly every day. I loved it. $2.85 for a hot, hearty, tasty meal. The lunches weren't always great, but they were always pretty good.

I took pictures of many of them.

Sadly, the school I work for this year is too small for a cafeteria. Brown bagging it.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:55 AM on September 4, 2006 [1 favorite]

I noticed that you are serverd on styrofoam. In grade school we had these plastic melamine type trays. Once finished with lunch, we had to walk to where our teacher was sitting, ask 'may I scrape?' present the tray to prove that we had in fact eaten everything, they would pick up the milk carton to verify that was empty and then they would give us permission to put our tray in the wash. If you did not eat everything you had to sit down in front of them and finish it.

This was a parochial Lutheran grade school that did use the gubmint lunch program. We had to pray before eating our grade d meat and after before we got dismissed for lunch recess.
posted by pieoverdone at 7:02 AM on September 4, 2006

I vaguely remember one school I went to where if you showed up early enough you could get breakfast, but I was much too lazy to have bothered with that. Plus I think the "breakfast" was a cup of cereal and some milk, so no big loss either way.

But on reflection I think that was for kids who were of the latchkey variety. Not that I wasn't, but I'm not much of a joiner either.
posted by Talanvor at 7:26 AM on September 4, 2006

I almost always went home for lunch. It was great for the food (no soggy PB & J for me), but I do wonder how much socialization I missed because of it.
posted by dogwelder at 7:31 AM on September 4, 2006

Talanvor writes "But on reflection I think that was for kids who were of the latchkey variety."

They had that at my high school, but I don't think it was for latchkey kids, because school started at 7:20, which means that while these kids' parents might certainly be at work when the kids got home from school, it's incredibly unlikely that they were at work when the kids left for school. I just assumed it was for kids whose families couldn't afford to prepare breakfast every day.
posted by Bugbread at 7:44 AM on September 4, 2006

Free lunch kid here.
School lunches saved my life through childhood. Many times it was the only meal I received. I got on the breakfast program for a year in 5th grade. That was living large, considering that many times if there was dinner at home, it was a Top Ramen or Cup of Noodles.
Something happened in High School, I don't know if the program ended or if we no longer qualified, but the free meals ended. I blame Ronald Reagan for some reason, this was right aroung the "ketchup is a vegetable" debacle.

My favorite school lunches were tacos and hamburger gravy over mashed potatoes. And milk, what a luxury it was when I could get chocolate milk once in awhile. And I loved the buttery corn. And the rolls.

But thank god I can afford fresh nutritious food now.
posted by Jazz Hands at 7:50 AM on September 4, 2006

I almost always went home for lunch. This was 100% forbidden. In fact, being off campus in high school during the lunch hour was a suspendable offense. Someone got caught once because the manager of McDonald's called the school to report students in there. Once a semester, kids with perfect attendence and a high GPA were treated to a 1 day hour long off campus lunch.

This actually turned up later in life, too. I once worked for a company that gave a half hour lunch and did not allow employees to leave the premises for it. An hour lunch with permissions to leave the building were used as a reward for various things.
posted by pieoverdone at 7:51 AM on September 4, 2006

Our department I should say, not the entire company. It was internal helpdesk for a retail chain at their HQ.
posted by pieoverdone at 7:53 AM on September 4, 2006

Mother Jones has an article from a few years ago about how meat- and cheese-heavy US school lunches are thanks to USDA subsidies.
At a time when weight-related illnesses in children are escalating, schools are serving kids the very foods that lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. That's because the National School Lunch Program, which gives schools more than $6 billion each year to offer low-cost meals to students, has conflicting missions. Enacted in 1946, the program is supposed to provide healthy meals to children, regardless of income. At the same time, however, it's designed to subsidize agribusiness, shoring up demand for beef and milk even as the public's taste for these foods declines.
posted by jessamyn at 8:03 AM on September 4, 2006

The sloppy joes without the sloppy (called made-rights I think) and the tater tots were always faves. As the kid of a single mom with a full time job while in college to get a degree, the school lunches were some of the best meals I ate as a kid.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 8:05 AM on September 4, 2006

From K-8, I ate the school cafeteria food.

In 9th grade they let us go out for lunch if we wanted, so I went to the local pizza shop every day for the whole year.
posted by danb at 8:21 AM on September 4, 2006

I'm stunned by the positive nostalgia people have about school lunch. Did anyone else think drinking milk with whatever served was just vile?
posted by pieoverdone at 8:24 AM on September 4, 2006

I went to elementary school in Dallas, Texas in the 1970s and I loved the cafeteria food. My Mom still gently chides me about the time I came home and proclaimed, "Mom, I wish you could cook as well as the school cafeteria." (ouch! Mom's gotten to be a better cook these days).

My favorite cafeteria meal was called 'Fiesta Salad':
Scatter a handful of fritos on a plate, then add a scoop of rice and a scoop of chili on top of the rice. Then we got two individual-sized little plastic containers-- one with cheese and one with lettuce and tomato. We assembled the final salad at our table. Mmm-MMM, that was good stuff.

I remember the teacher's table at the front of the caf always had a bottle of tabasco sauce on it. For a long time my little kid brain associated tabasco sauce with The Trappings of Authority.

I also remember looking at the school cafeteria menu and being impressed with how many different ways they had of saying 'mashed potatoes'. Mashed Potatoes,Whipped Potatoes, Creamy Potatoes and my favorite, Snowflake Potatoes. Some Salisbury Steak, Snowflake Potatoes and Gravy... delicious.

Lunches cost 95 cents and desserts were another twenty-five cents. I can still hear the voices of the lunch ladies. The Latina woman who would ask "Do you want a Plate Lunch?" in a rapid-fire voice: "juwannaplalunch?" The ancient cashier and her Texan drawl and she counted out your change: "Ninety-Five A Dollllllllar."

I almost always saved my dessert quarter. I spent some of this loot on Star Wars toys and hoarded the rest. I remember going to the bank with my rolled-up coins and being so impressed that I had Almost A Hundred Dollars!

One more Cafeteria Memory: in Junior High I began my lifelong habit of putting black pepper on pretty much anything. I remember watching my friend Aaron put a thick layer of pepper onto his ketchup and then dipping his fries in that. I tried it and and liked it so much I never stopped.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 8:42 AM on September 4, 2006

The best elementary meal had to be meat-and-bean chili, served with a roll, a half of slice of (thick) government cheese, half an orange, and a big cinnamon roll for dessert. Add in the milk and you had a wonderful school lunch. All for $1.25.

I also remember the sheet pizza with sausage, later in high school this was replaced by the heat and eat "Fiestada." It resembled a pizza and a taco.
posted by bach at 9:04 AM on September 4, 2006

Lunch Lady Doris: "More testicles mean more iron."
posted by ericb at 9:08 AM on September 4, 2006

Found in my 1975 Irvington HS Campers yearbook:
1973 Week of October 8-12 Irvington High School Hot Lunch Menu
  • Mon. 8 -- No School. Columbus Day
  • Tues 9 -- Cube Steak on a Bun, Calico Rice, Southwestern Corn, Brownie
  • Wed 10 -- Porkette and Gravy, Cheese Potato Tots, Green Beans, Snickerdoodle Cookie
  • Thu 11 -- Ham or Turkey Hoagie, Potato Chips, Pickle Spear, Cole Slaw, Rice Pudding
  • Fri 12 -- Fish Sandwich or Tuna Noodle Casserole, Peas and Carrots, French Fries, Apple Brown Betty.
posted by paddbear at 9:15 AM on September 4, 2006

Mmmnnn... Porkette... Gahhah a h
posted by Gungho at 9:22 AM on September 4, 2006

Found in my 1975 Irvington HS Campers yearbook

That's a poem's worth of Americana. (Including the holiday.) What weird words. Cube Steak, Calico Rice, Porkette and Gravy, Cheese Potato Tots, Snickerdoodle Cookie, Ham or Turkey Hoagie, Potato Chips, Pickle Spear, Cole Slaw, Rice Pudding, Fish Sandwich or Tuna Noodle Casserole, Peas and Carrots, French Fries, Apple Brown Betty.
posted by pracowity at 10:39 AM on September 4, 2006

I ate hot lunch at school most days. I think it cost $1 in grade school and $1.25-$1.50 for the main meal in junior high and high school. In grade school we just had the one meal, but in junior high we had a la carte options and in high school we had the a la carte line and the bar of the day (pasta bar, taco bar, salad bar, hamburger bar, and hot dog bar) in addition to the main meal. Plus we could buy juice instead of milk! We did have pop machines outside the cafeteria in high school but they were (almost always) turned off during the lunch hours.

I loved the sheet pizza we had in the late 70s-early 80s but when I was in 7th grade (1985-86) they changed from sheet pizza to a different recipe. The new stuff was disgusting and I never ate school pizza after that. My favorite things were pizza boats, spaghetti/ravioli, tacos, and taco pizza. I still get a hankering for taco pizza sometimes - I've never found anything like it since. My favorite bar days were taco bar and pasta bar.
posted by SisterHavana at 10:44 AM on September 4, 2006

My grade school didn't even have a cafeteria. We ate our mom-supplied lunches in the classrooms. I can't tell whether or not I missed out, heh.
posted by ninjew at 12:10 PM on September 4, 2006

sista habana I think we had something similar -- some weeks instead of the usual gawdawful "pizza" we had 'mexican pizza' which was this hilarious hexagonal pizza with half cheddar-looking cheese along/overside the usual queso blanco, dotted with some sort of ersatz sausage bits. we kids loved it.

dare I even mention the peanut butter squares topped with solidified chocolate substitute?

strangely enough, the types of pizza + "buttered veg" are mostly all can ever I remember of the menu.

good times.
posted by dorian at 12:23 PM on September 4, 2006

It's interesting reading this thread. Growing up in Canada, I was certainly aware from pop culture that there were school lunches in the U.S. (An aside: I recall a "Little Archie" comic where Mr. Weatherbee tries to convince Little Jughead he should be taking advantage of the school hot lunch -- until he sees the lunch he brought from home.)

But the lunch experience for me was: Walking home (about a block and a half), wolfing down a homemade lunch, racing downstairs to watch The Flintstones, then trooping back for the rest of the day. The only exception to this was the occasional "Hot Dog Day" fundraiser, where we all ate our hot dogs and drank our little cups of Coke in the gym -- and they wheeled in TVs so we could watch, you guessed it, The Flintstones.

High school was too far away to walk home. So then you brought your lunch and ate it in the lunchroom (unless you had a car, or a friend did -- then you could go to McDonald's). Eventually, the school tried to ciphon off some of 7-Eleven's business by adding a snack counter. The only good thing I have to say about that is the hot chocolate they served on the coldest winter mornings. Mmm-mmmm.

And for the occasional treat, when the first Subway in town opened up, the owner and some employees would come to my school once every couple of months or so, and set up shop right in the lunchroom.
posted by evilcolonel at 1:27 PM on September 4, 2006

we had 'mexican pizza' which was this hilarious hexagonal pizza

I had the same thing in jr high, down to the hexagonality. It was awful if you were expecting Chef Boy-Ar-Dee pizza like God intended.

I do wonder why mexican pizza required a different cutting pattern than eye-talian pizza did. Perhaps it was so that blind students could tell by palpating their pizza what nationality it was.

Or perhaps hexagonality offers a key insight into the Mexican psyche.

yours, Xenophobe of the Mists
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:51 PM on September 4, 2006

Growing up in Canada, I was certainly aware from pop culture that there were school lunches in the U.S.

Casual googling indicates that this is not a US/Canada difference, just a school district to school district difference.

I've been in US public schools with no cafeteria that I was aware of, US public schools where everyone ate in the cafeteria and most people bought lunch from it, and US public schools where there was a cafeteria but most people just left campus to grab a bite elsewhere.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 2:02 PM on September 4, 2006

posted by ericb at 2:27 PM on September 4, 2006

What most people describe as horrible school lunches look very good to the average student in my school system. DCPS food isn't made in the school at all. They are pre-packaged irradiated meats and vegetables (which means that they can be kept in a warehouse for as long as necessary). They throw the packages in an oven, bring them to a serving line and that's lunch.

A lot of DCPS fails food safety standards, things being served to hot or to cold, lots of mice and roaches and other things that are just unhealthy. So other peoples school lunches are heaven to us.
posted by Suparnova at 3:09 PM on September 4, 2006

I was one of the poor kids that got breakfast too. Mmm cheez grits!
posted by candyland at 3:40 PM on September 4, 2006

Best school lunches I had were when I was in elementary school and allowed to walk home for lunch. When I changed schools and had to actually eat school lunches, I was horrified. I ate less every year and eventually stopped eating them entirely - I'd get milk, which I was fairly sure they couldn't screw up, but that was it. I still have a horror of rectangular pizzas. [And ugh, one had to swaddle the grilled cheese sandwiches in napkins to soak up enough grease to make them at all edible.]
posted by ubersturm at 6:10 PM on September 4, 2006

School lunch. Take that sour chocolate pudding and put it into your empty milk carton. Close the carton. Fold the top over to make a nice neat cube. Put it on the floor. Is anyone looking? NO, are any teachers looking? OK jump! Make sure you land on it with one foot or else the other foot will be covered in chocolate. Oops, time to go, I think I see the poor schmuck teacher on lunch room monitor duty heading this way. Ta ta.

School lunches were so pathetic, usually. However, this is why they still matter so much:

Great post, thanks. For tons of kids in my poor rural area, the school lunch is their one hot meal of the day.
posted by LarryC at 12:15 AM EST on September 4 [+] [!

Those of us who got to joke about how bad the food was were the lucky ones.
posted by caddis at 6:28 PM on September 4, 2006

Free lunch kid, here.

The blue card (in a tiny manila envelope) you picked up from the office every Monday, then had hole-punched at the register.

Funny to think that I make more as a single person now than both of my parents did combined (they were in Grad School, an investment that eventually paid off) while they were raising three boys. Not even a TV, though every evening, my dad would haul out his pipe and read a few chapters of Tolkein (It took many years).

Does any one remember the Dream (no-bake) Cookie they often served? Recipe here.
posted by sourwookie at 9:00 PM on September 4, 2006

Oooh, peanut butter crunch bars! Forgot about those.
As for the taco pizza...I think this is it!
posted by SisterHavana at 10:02 PM on September 4, 2006

I once found a cooked grasshopper in the spinach. But this happened in the same Oklahoma school that considered the 4th grade class outing to a slaughterhouse appropriate.
Oh, and I still can't find sloppy joes as good as the grade school ones.
posted by Cedric at 7:15 AM on September 5, 2006

I'm amazed nobody's linked to the Harrisonburg City Schools Lunch Choices (coral cache of my own mirror, since the original site is long gone) page yet. Mmm, Italian Dunkers.

posted by hades at 7:55 AM on September 5, 2006

Why should milk be subsidized? Pointless.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:04 PM on September 5, 2006

I hear the San Francisco school district lunches of the day every morning on 91.7, and it's extremely depressing. The "vegetarian" option is always grilled cheese, mac n cheese, or cheese burrito. It seems like a dairy conspiracy.
posted by mrgrimm at 5:06 PM on September 5, 2006

SisterHavana that is totally it. the excessive branding seems rather modern however.

thinking back, we would put the buttered corn atop the rectangular pizza. but never the mexican pizza oh no it could stand alone.

you know, at university a friend of mine would try to see just how many patties of grade-d beef he could convince the grill cook to put on a single burger sandwich. sort of a masochistic homage to in-n-out mebbe.
posted by dorian at 10:55 PM on September 5, 2006

This thread is long gone, but I just remembered something else -- taco bagel! One day the lunch staff had leftover taco meat and leftover bagels, so, hey.

If you squeezed the bagel, the viscous meat would slide out of the bagel holes like Play-Doh through a spaghetti maker.
posted by danb at 11:56 AM on September 9, 2006

danb : "the viscous meat would slide out of the bagel holes like Play-Doh through a spaghetti maker."

viscous meat - bagel - playdoh - pasta maker

I'll never think of user pastabagel the same.
posted by Bugbread at 9:25 AM on September 10, 2006

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