My daughter was telling me recently about the “Dos and Don’ts” of school lunches – especially lunches sent from home. Apparently, the modern Lunch Nazis now rifle through each Spiderman lunchbox or brown paper bag to approve or disapprove of what children can eat. Donuts are definite “no-no’s and so are Oreo cookies. When I was a kid, you only got an Oreo cookie if you’d behaved yourself the day before. In fact, it was unusual to have a leftover Oreo in the house, because once the kids found out they were around, they were torn into and devoured on the spot – the entire bag, along with a quart of milk.
A typical packed school lunch for a Boomer kid in the 50’s or 60’s was a bologna or peanut butter and jelly sandwich with maybe an apple or a pear. Sometimes you’d get a Fig Newton, and on occasion you’d find that special Oreo or a homemade chocolate chip cookie in your stash. Kids that had a slice of pie or cake were considered Titans. It was practically unheard of. For a beverage, there was always an ashtray on the kitchen table filled with pennies. It cost two-cents for a half-pint of milk and it was up to the kid to grab a couple pennies before heading out – otherwise he or she would have to wash down that bologna sandwich with fountain water. Fortunately for many of us forgetful kids, the teachers back then also kept a stack of pennies and loaned thirsty students the two cents for milk with the requirement that they refrain from chewing gum and blowing bubbles that afternoon during history class.
Often, when the bologna supply ran out or Mom and Dad had one more day before grocery shopping duties, kids ate school lunches. They were actually pretty good, though the variety lacked something to be desired. As I recall, the Iron Chefs at our cafeteria pretty much repeated the menu every week. It was something like – meat loaf, beans with franks, fish sticks, spaghetti, and then some sort of stew concoction. When cats went missing in the neighborhood, we always wondered about the stew. But it was pretty good. I like cats. For sides, we had either green beans or pinto beans with every meal, plus a potato dish of some sort, baked cornbread and a cookie for dessert. Each kid got a free half-pint of milk with the 25c lunch and you could buy another carton for 2 cents if you had it on you.
One of my fond memories of fourth grade was when Mrs. Williams collected leftover items from the sack lunches and redistributed them during the afternoon break. Fortunately, most of the girls in our class didn’t like or wouldn’t eat all of their bologna sandwiches and the ravenous boys were able to finish off the leftovers.
Those were good days – when all the teachers had to do was to teach kids reading, writing and arithmetic. They gracefully refrained from deciding what parents could or could not send with their children for lunch.