Hot Food for Rural School Children

A century ago parents had the same concerns for their children’s health and nutrition as parents of today. Printed in the October 1921 volume of The Farmer’s Wife – A Magazine for Farm Women is an article sharing a community’s success in providing a warm noon meal for their school children through the help and industry of the children themselves. The summer-long project involved students in gardening, canning, cooking and donating their produce to the warmth and well being of their fellows.

Neighborhood Activities

Stories Of Accomplishments By Rural Groups, Here, There And Everywhere

COMMUNITIES all over the country are appreciating more and more the need and value of some hot food for school children at noon. Many who have long since passed the school attendance age can look back and recall very vividly how unappetizing the cold lunch became after a few weeks of school and especially in the latter part of the winter. The cities have long since organized a system to provide this hot noon meal but in the rural districts the problem has been much more difficult and it was not until comparatively recently that any attempt was made to solve the problem.

It may be of interest to those who are working on this question to know how one community in Chester County, Pa., has organized to care for the health of the children in this way. Sconnelltown school is situated in the historic Brandywine country.

The children in this school have their own vegetable gardens in the summer. These gardens were very successful and some of the produce, corn, string beans and tomatoes, was contributed by the producers to the school. Eight of the school girls under the supervision of a progressive woman in the community canned these vegetables. As a result, they had at the end of the season, 36 quarts of beans, 59 quarts of tomatoes and 27 quarts of corn. This made a very nice supply with which to start the years. As lunches are served to 27 pupils each day, purchased cans will have to be added to the supply of tomatoes. Other supplies are provided by the Home and School League which meets in the school. This makes it possible for all pupils, whether they have any pennies to spend or not, to have the hot food. The older girls of the school prepare the food and serve it to the other children as they sit at their desks.

This organization serves many purposes. It stimulates interest in the school gardens and canning and gives a definite aim for both; it partially provides for the school lunches during the winter months; and it provides the nourishing hot food which is so much needed by so many of the pupils.

Many other schools in Chester County are doing similar work with the hot lunches but not all are as well organized as in this community. – Mary Palmer, Chester County, Pennsylvania

The above article was originally published in The Farmer’s Wife – A Magazine for Farm Women, 1 October 1921, page 566; Webb Publishing Company, St. Paul, Minnesota

School Lunches — 1948 (Tuna and Cream Cheese Sandwiches)

<p class="has-drop-cap has-text-align-justify" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">We have come to the time of year in the northwest when the bounties of summer are being harvested and preserved. My green beans and tomatoes have been canned, the peppers have been roasted and put in the freezer, the peaches and pears are in jars lining the pantry shelves and the local grain has been harvested. Just around the corner, the apples will be ready to pick and process into applesauce and pie filling, the onions and potatoes are ready to be dug, the pumpkins are turning orange and the county fair has come and gone. Our blissful daytime temperatures are in the 80s with our nighttime temps flirting with freezing and the children have gone back to school (although school in 2020 looks somewhat non-traditional).We have come to the time of year in the northwest when the bounties of summer are being harvested and preserved. My green beans and tomatoes have been canned, the peppers have been roasted and put in the freezer, the peaches and pears are in jars lining the pantry shelves and the local grain has been harvested. Just around the corner, the apples will be ready to pick and process into applesauce and pie filling, the onions and potatoes are ready to be dug, the pumpkins are turning orange and the county fair has come and gone. Our blissful daytime temperatures are in the 80s with our nighttime temps flirting with freezing and the children have gone back to school (although school in 2020 looks somewhat non-traditional).

<p class="has-text-align-justify" value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Early in my elementary career, schools across America began experimenting with school lunch or hot lunch as we called it. Today school lunch is as American as apple pie, but up until then, generations of children brought their lunches from home. While reading from an old cookbook — <em>Watkins Cook Book</em> 1948, I discovered some advice, albeit dated, for packing a child's lunch box. Early in my elementary career, schools across America began experimenting with school lunch or hot lunch as we called it. Today school lunch is as American as apple pie, but up until then, generations of children brought their lunches from home. While reading from an old cookbook — Watkins Cook Book 1948, I discovered some advice, albeit dated, for packing a child’s lunch box.

The Lunch Box

Throughout most of the twentieth century, cookbooks were seen as a way of educating housewives on food safety, nutrition and technique. If the cookbook was sponsored by a food production company, one would also find nouveau recipes and methods for using their products. Watkins Cook Book 1948 is one of these cookbooks. Intertwined in the advice and advertising we can catch a glimpse of how lunches might have been prepared and what American school children might have been eating post WWII:

  • A lunch should be packed in a well-ventilated, sanitary container to protect the food and to keep it compact and odorless upon opening (is that possible with a tuna fish sandwich?). Waxed paper should be used to wrap all food, and covered jelly glasses (remember those in our grandmothers’ cupboard) are excellent to use for baked beans, vegetable salad, applesauce, baked apple or for a pudding. Highly-seasoned and rich foods should not be placed in a lunch box.
  • Milk in some form should be included in the daily school lunch — either plain milk, malted milk, or hot or cold Watkins Cocoa, which may be carried in a pint milk bottle or in a thermos bottle, using a straw for drinking. Fresh fruit in season is appetizing and healthful.
  • Hard cooked eggs, cooked 30 minutes (yes the book says 30 minutes), are as digestible as soft-boiled. Peeled, wrapped in a lettuce or cabbage leaf and waxed paper, they will make an appetizing salad. Cooked vegetables as a salad add a note of interest to a box lunch. Raw carrot sticks or celery sticks made crisp in cold water, dried and wrapped in waxed paper make a tasty accompaniment to a meat sandwich. Do not pack hot creamed meat, fish and poultry dishes as the food may sour when kept warm for several hours.
  • The lunch box should contain sandwiches, a raw vegetable, a relish, fruit, pudding, cookies and a beverage (More on a complete school lunch below).
  • If sandwiches are to be kept a long time, do not use lettuce or other salad greens. Use a mayonnaise dressing as the oil will not soak into the bread.
  • For making sandwiches in quantities, wrap them in a napkin dipped in hot water and wrung dry. Or wrap in waxed paper and fasten with a rubber band.

Sandwich Fillings

Watkins Cook Book 1948 offers the following suggestions for sandwich fillings. I wonder how popular or even practical some of these suggestions were back then, however, a #7 on wheat toast sounds pretty good.

A Compete School Lunch with Advertising

Extending the suggestions for sandwich filling, Watkins Cook Book 1948 lists ten ideas for complete school lunches (mixed with a little advertising). I wonder about the feasibility of these lunches as they seem quite labor intensive and unrealistic. However my mother-in-law packed her children’s lunches with sandwiches made from homemade bread well into the 70s…then she would go out and milk the cows (No kidding!) It also seems like a lot of food for a child.

Tuna and Cream Cheese Sandwiches

school lunch 001Most of the time when I took a cold lunch or sack lunch to school, it contained a tuna sandwich on store-bought white bread and that wasn’t bad. I actually liked them especially with potato chips placed under the top slice of bread just before eating. It makes me hungry just thinking about it. A number of years ago I purchased a cookbook that I often refer to — Cooking from Quilt Country 1989 by Marcia Adams — featuring Amish and Mennonite recipes. This book contains a recipe for a tuna salad with cream cheese, toasted pecans and lemon juice. I adapted the recipe and served these sandwiches at a women’s luncheon a few years ago. The ladies enjoyed them and many asked for a copy of the recipe. Thankfully the tuna fish sandwich is not obsolete, it has just had a makeover. (Well drained canned chicken can be substituted for the tuna as well). Enjoy!

Tuna and Cream Cheese Sandwiches - 1989

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 (8 oz) package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

  • 2 (7 oz) cans tuna OR a (13 oz) can chicken, well drained
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped celery OR black olives
  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

  • 12 slices white bread
  • Softened butter

Directions

  1. In a medium mixer bowl, combine the cream cheese, lemon juice and mayonnaise; blend well.
  2. Fold in tuna or chicken, chopped celery, pecans and salt and pepper. Chill filling for several hours.
  3. Spread filling on lightly buttered bread. Garnish with lettuce if desired.

Recipe Compliments of Cookbooklady.com