Historic photo: Memories of lunches past


ENGLEWOOD — This plastic lunch tray from Northmont High School on display at the Randolph Township History Center, 114 Valleyview St., Englewood, will bring back good and bad memories for a generation of students.

Alarmed by the amount of malnutrition among Army recruits, the federal government began programs supplying lunches to school children.

During the Depression, it seemed logical purchase food to support farmers and give it to the schools, and the program grew into the National School Lunch Act of 1946.

As with most ideas, there were a few problems. The food was often perishable dairy products, leaving schools struggling to use up large supplies.

One school used up surplus butter by mixing it in the peanut butter and also buttered the bread. Thus, the cooks accomplished the seemingly impossible task of creating a peanut butter sandwich that elementary students disliked.

Students wondered what kind of fruit produced the greenish-black “fruit juice served every Friday. (Years later, a food service worker who had been a student at that school confirmed the students’ belief that the school mixed together all the syrup drained off all the canned fruit served on the preceding four days.)

In general, the schools did the best they could. One cook made all soup the day before and skimmed off any congealed grease.

Another decided to use up surplus peanuts by giving every student a handful with the rest of the lunch. This was very popular, especially after the elementary students discovered the school’s thick straws made excellent peanut shooters.

But some of us remember some of the food fondly—grilled cheese sandwiches still don’t taste right without accompanying tomato soup. One student begged her mother to make pudding “like we have it at school, with lots of lumps in it.”

Then as now, the school lunch was the main meal for some students. One told the principal, “Damned fine meal today.”

Due to the COVID virus, the History Center and all programs by the Randolph Township Historical Center have been cancelled or postponed at least through June 30. Call the Center, 937-832-8538, or check the Facebook page for status of July programs.