I don’t have fond memories of my school cafeteria lunches — though they are memorable. For a few years I never bought the school lunch, priced at 35 cents, because the “noon-aide” forced everyone to stay at the table until his/her plate was clean. Kids would try to hide food in empty milk cartons, or sneak it into the trash, only to be caught and forced to sit down, eat it and raise their hand to be excused for recess when finished. Some kids sat there the entire lunch recess. I remember walking by the cafeteria lunch room, seeing a lone child sitting there and the fierce-looking “noon-aide” hovering nearby.
This was the 1960’s. In the suburbs of Southern California.
I recall paper cups of thick, gooey chocolate pudding decorated with hard mini-marshmallows — very nasty. The hamburgers had oatmeal in them — not the bun, the meat. It was served with a thimble-sized paper cup-full of yellow sauce and two sliced dill pickles.
We ate our cafeteria meals from hard plastic trays using stainless steel utensils. After eating, you raised your hand to be “excused”, and then disposed of the paper goods in the large trash can while the trays and silverware went through the wash-window, to be recycled via dish-washing. If you were a good girl you got to go out to recess.
In elementary school, the town newspaper, The Ledger, published the menu for the week. My mom would cut it out and pin it to the bulletin board. I seem to recall choosing one or two days of the week to eat in the “cafe.” I liked mashed potatoes and gravy, so ate on turkey day. I hated the hamburgers and was sorely disappointed when I arrived and the school had changed the menu.
Fridays were always fish sticks or grilled cheese sandwiches. Why? I think it had something to do with religion — maybe Catholics? They could only eat cheese or fish on Fridays. I was never fond of those fish sticks, but the greasy grilled cheese sandwich was OK. However, if they ran out you might get stuck with that fish stick and be stuck at the table all lunch period. Better to avoid Fridays completely.
We also had tater tots. Yep, tater tots were well-liked by most kids. Drinks? It was always a small carton of milk, with a straw.
We lined-up for our lunch, paid our quarter and dime and shuffled to one of the lunch tables in the auditorium. It was a multipurpose room with a stage and long tables that slid out of the walls on either side of the auditorium. When the tables were rolled-up and hidden in the wall (like a hide-a-bed), we had square dancing or assemblies. I hated square dancing.
Lincoln Elementary School Today (there was no chain-link fence or Lincoln Lions painted on the building when I attended.)
It was first built in 1924 on New York Ave and Altura in La Crescenta, CA. Later in the 50’s it was upgraded, but the stone wall in the front still stands: