School Lunches Back in the Day

With school lunches being in the news lately, I am reminiscing about my school lunches during my public school days in Philly..

Even back in the 60’s schools received  some kind of state or federal government subsidy for school lunches. I did not deal with school lunches until Jr. high, because I came home for lunch from 1st through 6th grade. When I got to Jr. high, I started taking my lunches, which were usually Peanut butter and jelly, some kind of lunch meat or tuna. Eventually, I ended up buying the school lunches, because I liked the variety. My parents encouraged it, because I was a picky eater back then and they like that I wanted to eat different food combinations that up until that time, I squawked at eating.

I could get a half of hoagie (sub sandwich) and potato chips for 15 cents. I could get a platter for 35 cents. By the time I got to my junior year in high school hoagies were a quarter and the platters had gone up to about 75 cents.  A platter included drink, lettuce and tomato salad or soup and dessert with the entrée.  A platter entrée could be hot roast beef or turkey sandwiches covered in gravy with mashed potatoes and green beans, spaghetti and meatballs, hot dogs and baked beans, shepherd’s pie, cheeseburger and french fries, or other foods. The one meal that had me buying the non platter hoagie and potato chips entrée or even bringing a sandwich from home was the pizza lunch. The pizza consisted of open face hamburger buns with melted orange sandwich cheese slices and topped with a dollop of tomato sauce. That was so unappetizing!

I remember the infamous dessert line, which did not open up until 20 minutes into the lunch period. But there would be students in that line as soon as the lunch period began. Monitoring teachers and non-teaching assistants would try to discourage students from the dessert line upon lunchroom entry. That line was always the longest food line. Some days, it could wrap around the lunch room. I knew classmates whose lunches were nothing but desserts i.e. cake, pudding, popsicles, ice cream sandwiches and etc.

School lunches were practically banished in the upper grades in Philly starting in my senior year at high school due to growing lunchroom student gang violence. My classes started  around 7:30 A. M. and went straight through to 1:00 in the afternoon. I ate lunch when I went home. Sometimes my mother would give me money to buy us hoagies or cheesesteaks on the way home from school. If you are wondering, the schools relaxed their policy a little on eating snacks like chips or cheese crackers during classes.

The food lunch saga these days keeps getting interesting. There are growing school districts where lunches from home are forbidden. There are districts that image  the individual student lunch and access calories and fat and getting rid of chocolate and strawberry milk. Nothing like that is going on in Philly or where I now live in Lansdale, yet. But these trends will probably come this way.

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