School Lunches

National School Lunch Act was signed in 1946, the country’s first school food programs began decades earlier, in the immigrant tenements of turn-of-the-century cities. In these early lunchrooms, diversity ruled. However, not just in large cities but in smaller towns of the 1920s also began added serving lunch daily for students.

From 1880 to 1920, more than 20 million immigrants entered America, most of them from Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe. Thousands of them settled on the Lower East Side. It was the practice that students would go home to eat lunch there. However, for poorer families may not have had enough food for lunches. Some children even purchased food from unsanitary street carts.

With new laws to see that schools provided hot daily lunches, there was no consideration of cultural foods for those of Italian, Jewish, Russian or any other ethnic background. School cafeteria meatloaf and tater tots are symbols of a white American culture that rejected immigrant children. It was stated that school lunch menus consist of “food that is fairly innocuous and has low emotional value.” Spicy foods, cream sauce, and strong flavors were out; meat pies, plain soups, and boiled vegetables were in. The only seasoning would be salt.

In recent years there have been changes to the types of foods served at school, especially in areas with a strong ethnic population.

What a great question to ask your relatives – what were their school lunches like? Did they have a favorite food that was served? Did they bring their own lunches or purchase lunch. If they brought form home their lunch was it in a paper bag or a lunchbox. The designs and style of lunchboxes in the 1950s through the 1970s were quite diverse.

Photos: 1910s street food carts; 1920s lunchtime; 1950s lunchbox and 1960s lunchbox.

Related Blogs:

School Time for Your Ancestors

School Life

Foods Eaten by Our Ancestors

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