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The evolution of hot lunch programs


February 20, 2012
Billie Shelton , The Daily Freeman Journal

Recently, I saw a short piece from 1922 about a new hot lunch program in the Randall school system. See how we have evolved from this to where we are now with school nutrition and the hot lunch program administered by the USDA in public schools across our country:

"The success of the first hot lunch in our school was evident last Wednesday. Steaming hot cocoa was served to 150 pupils, and macaroni and cheese was consumed by 80 hungry ones. The cost is three cents per serving. Hot cocoa and potato soup will be served next week."

While this sounds more like an attempt to try something new and different for the students than to start a school nutrition program, it is interesting to contemplate how far we've come in feeding our school children in the last 90 years or so. As near as I could find out, school hot lunch got started around the turn of the last century as officials first realized that too many children were too hungry to learn at school and that the schools could do something about that. So the lunch nutrition program came about.

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There was always hot lunch when I went to school, with the kitchen and lunchroom located in the basement of the old Stanhope school. Since the hot lunch program came about after the school was built, the kitchen and lunchroom had to be fit in somewhere, and probably the only space available was in the lowest level. Each school day to get our lunch, we walked down one, two or three flights of stairs (depending on where you were in the building), waited in line in a hallway to go into the kitchen to get our lunch on round brown divided plates, and then we carried our plates as we walked back down that same long hallway past the furnace room to the lunchroom, which was a converted coal room.

My husband went to a country school for several years, so he does remember the days before hot lunch. One school year, the mothers decided the children needed a hot lunch, so once a week the moms took turns bringing in hot lunch for the entire student body. To hear him tell it, the one-dish meals were hearty but simple except on the days when one of the families took their turn. All they could afford was soup made with vegetables from their garden. And no meat in the soup, which added insult to the vegetables.

As for our children, hot lunch was always part of their school days. And it was in the lunchroom where they learned all kinds of good things, like how to burp loudest. Even if by then school nutrition had come a very long ways since the days of hot cocoa and potato soup, sometimes I wished I could keep them out of the lunchroom.



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