When a bunch of us got together at a party we had a lot of fun reminiscing. One of the topics that came up was the school cafeteria. When I taught there were three wonderful women who were in the kitchen. They cooked everything from scratch and it was wonderful.
There was a huge mixer in the kitchen that they used when they made cookies. Cookies were not on the menu every day, but when they were you could smell them baking in the hallway. There was always a plate of cookies for the teachers. One time they received a shipment of fresh figs. They were to put them on the trays. Now, you and I both know that the young children were not about to eat those sticky brown things! I volunteered to take the figs home and create a filling. When I brought the figs back to school they were embedded in cookies and everyone ate them.
Then, there were the real turkey dinners. The ladies made good use of their time. There was never a dull moment. Just before Thanksgiving and Christmas the ladies cooked turkeys to make the turkey dinner. That allowed them time to remove it from the bones so that it was ready to serve. I do not think they used instant potatoes either. The cranberry sauce did come out of a can. Everyone bought the turkey dinners!
They prepared things ahead to make the following day easier. At one school where I worked we had a world culture day. Those ladies in the cafeteria prepared foods from different countries for the children to eat that day. We did not ask them to do that, they just volunteered so that they could be part of the celebration.
There were two wonderful salad dressings that were served in the old-style cafeterias. The one began with tomato soup and the other was a sweet and sour dressing. They would even make special salads for the teachers, if they ordered them ahead of time.
Macaroni and cheese - the kind without the fluorescent orange cheese - was another favorite. Those were the days before the delicacy came in cardboard boxes. Everything was made from scratch with a white sauce with cheese melted into it. The toasted bread crumbs on the top were my favorite part. I always hoped that my portion had some of those.
View From Hickory Heights
Goulash was the homemade kind as well. They mixed the surplus meat that they received from the government with tomato sauce and macaroni for a delicious treat. Everything was baked in very large silver pans. For years those pans sat on shelves in the faculty room. The modern school cafeteria did not use things like that.
It was through the cooks that I found out you could pour peanut butter goodies into pans and cut them instead of dropping them by teaspoons. What a time saver that was!
I remember the cooks using ice cream scoops to keep the portions equal. In those days the children who bought their lunches ate almost everything. There were no free lunches, but the lunches were reasonably priced for everyone. They even served whole milk with chocolate, too. At the time my mother worked at a dairy. They bottled the school orders separately because it had to meet government standards for whole milk. The food was very good.
Luckily, when the second-grade class made a cookbook the ladies in the kitchen contributed recipes. I have both of the salad dressing recipes, the recipe for peanut butter goodies, and the soda box cookie recipe. They are family favorites that I make frequently.
I can remember back further than that. Since I walked to school I walked home for lunch so I did not eat in the school cafeteria. I knew some of the ladies that worked in the kitchen personally so I knew they were good cooks.
The year that we were forced to go on split sessions I ate in school. I ate my lunch before I left school just after noon to go to work in a store downtown. It was really a necessity that I ate there, but I did not mind because the food was very good. Once again everything was made from scratch. It is hard to beat real cooking with fresh ingredients.
The government no longer has surplus food to distribute to the schools. That ended quite a while ago. Things really began to run amuck when all of the packaged stuff made its way to the school cafeteria. Things out of the freezer do not beat what the ladies used to make on their own.
Ketchup is not a vegetable. A juice drink does not take the place of milk or a piece of fruit. In my mind the standards are too low. Mrs. Obama wants to regulate school lunches. Although her premise is not wrong, I think her efforts have fallen short. I read somewhere that she wanted to establish guidelines that would not allow lunches to be packed and brought from home. That would put all of our children at risk. Good eating cannot be legislated; it must be taught and modeled.
At the beginning of the year when I taught kindergarten I explained to the children what healthy snacks were. For the first week I modeled the foods that fit into the food groups. When I served raw vegetables I had none left over. All of the children ate; they simply chose what they liked best. It was the same with fruit. Crackers and cheese were a favorite. I had no trouble teaching the children; however, some of the parents were very resistant.
Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa.