School Lunch Routine

I listen to the radio while I work. I need some kind of “noise” in the background or I just can’t get anything done. Most of the time, I couldn’t even recount to you what was discussed on the programs I frequent.

The other day, however, Michelle Obama was on Talk of the Nation talking about her book and childhood health focus in general.

The subject of school lunches came up. The discussion focused on how healthy/unhealthy various lunch options were, but it got me thinking of my own history with School Lunch.

Elementary School

I know I purchased lunch in lower elementary school (when we lived in Virginia), but I don’t remember much about what was served except that I’d always get chocolate milk and one time the lunch lady said she’d tell my mother that all I did at lunch was drink chocolate milk rather than eat my food so I ate everything in sight that day and then threw up on the playground at recess. That night, my mother told me that I could eat (or not eat) whatever I wanted at lunch.

Also, my favorite school lunch was this thing called “Breakfast for Lunch” where we’d have waffles and bacon at midday. That was ruined, however, in third grade when a classmate tragically lost her battle to cancer and the rumor-mill circulated the idea that waffles at lunch was the cause of her death. Kids are crazy.

Later on, around fifth grade, I started bringing lunches from home.

In sixth grade, we had a problem at my school where someone would steal all the treats out of everyone’s lunch (this was easily done as we kept our belongings in unlocked lockers in the hallway). At lunch, people would glumly eat their sandwiches and talk about the pudding or cookies that had been stolen from them that day. People always assumed I had the best stuff because all that was left when we got to the cafeteria was fruit, yogurt, and a sandwich on whole wheat bread. I went with it rather than admit that there had never been sweets in my lunchbox.

Junior High

I bought my lunch daily (it was only $1.25 – something that sticks with me to this day… inexplicably). Lunch consisted of a main course and option of two sides. My favorite side was canned pears. I still love canned pears. While the school lunch was relatively healthy, the other half of the cafeteria sold ice cream treats (drumsticks, ice cream sandwiches, pudding pops, etc) for 25 cents. You bet I ate my fill of chocolate eclairs in those two years.

High School

I never brought my lunch in high school. We had many lunch options in my high school (including various fast food chains, which was probably not so great for us, health wise). I got the same thing every day. I’d go to the deli side of the hot food line and get a turkey sandwich on a kaiser roll with Swiss cheese and mustard. Large Cherry Coke. The only variations were on Friday when I’d let myself have one of the super-delicious, likely-full-of-lard chocolate chip cookies or during Lent when the Cherry Coke was swapped with water and a sense of moral superiority.

Overall, I suppose there always were unhealthy options readily available. In elementary school, my parents -understandably – had more control and stocked our home with healthy snacks. In high school, though, I could have gotten pizza and fries every day. There were vending machines selling chips, soda, and candy.

While it can be argued whose job it is to teach self-control and healthy eating habits, it’s hard to think that these easily-available unhealthy options are completely blameless.

What were your young lunches like? Did you have vending machines in your schools? Were the lunch options provided by the school healthy?

Fun Future-Helena-Foreshadowing Moment Tangentially Related to Lunch: I used to forget to bring money for lunch and would have to beg, borrow, or steal to get fed. OK, I didn’t really steal much. Anyway, my father gave me a $20 bill to put in an envelope and keep in my locker for days when I’d forgotten cash. An emergency kitty, if you will.

Well, my high school was kinda fancy and we had a Credit Union in (one of the) cafeterias. I took my $20 and opened an account. That’s right, I’ve always been into financial responsibility. From mid-high school to mid-college when I finally got around to closing the account, that $20 had grown by about a dollar. Well done, young me.

9 thoughts on “School Lunch Routine

  1. Lindsay

    I remember I was on the pre-paid plan in elementary school because we didn’t make much money – so it was a huge discount I believe? But I got teased for being ‘poor’ and begged to take my lunch to school instead.

    In high school, since we still were without expendable income, I had to continue taking my lunch to school – but now all the kids bought the cool Pizza Hut and Taco Bell stuff. I had a sandwich, pretzels and an apple (we never had sweets either!).

    But I do recall about one Friday a month my Mom would give me $3 and I could buy my own lunch! And I almost always got cheese sticks. Those greasy things! And a Dr Pepper. The only place that comes close to those cheese sticks are IHOP at 3am! :D

    1. Helena Post author

      Blah, kids can be so mean. :-(

      I love that you still remember the fun lunches you had in high school. I also kind of love that you included Dr Pepper as that stuff is fantastic.

  2. renita

    I remember some truly terrible elementary school lunches — “steak sandwiches” that were slices of greasy looking beef, limp canned green beans, “cheese dreams” which were leftover hamburger buns broiled with cheese and bacon bits… ugh.

    My high school had a rather tiny cafeteria (which used to be a shooting range, no joke), so they had open lunch for seniors. I didn’t eat a single meal in the cafeteria that year — we ate at Burger King, Dairy Queen, the Noble Roman’s in the gas station up the street, we’d order salads in from a nearby Italian restaurant, and every so often we’d have the fastest mall food-court-lunch ever.

    Man, some of the crap I ate, it’s a wonder I was as thin as I was back then…

  3. Abby

    My mom made my lunch every day, probably until I was in about grade 10. After that I think I was too busy looking cool and sitting in Starbucks to eat lunch, even though I didn’t even drink coffee. My mom is, and always has been, very good about being cheap, and I think I’ve learned from her – I still bring my own lunch almost every day!

  4. Sarah

    About school lunches – I remember more about elementary school lunches than Jr high and High school. I rarely, if ever, brought my lunch. I ate in the cafeteria. In elementary school the lunchroom ladies were wonderful One lady made the bread – predominately home made rolls that melt in your mouth. I don’t remember about desserts but the basic meal was good – meat, veggie and a starch usually. Funny though the rolls are what I remember the most!

  5. Pingback: Gym Class Memories | Bye Bye, Bitters

  6. esther

    I’m way late on this, so I hope you don’t mind!

    1) Did you hear about this awesome Scottish girl?

    2) I remember buying hot lunches 1st-3rd grade, but then the cool thing to do was to BYO. The tater tots & rectangular pizza were good then. In middle school, there were nachos on Fridays, like the kind w/oozy stadium cheese. In HS, if you were on the honor roll, you got a card that entitled you to a free milkshake each month. Vegetables did not happen ever, pffft.


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