Monday, September 20, 2010

School Lunch: A History Lesson

First, Your Homework

There's a new documentary that is opening tomorrow. It's on the history of school lunch and the debate over school lunch issues. It's called "Lunch Line." I plan on trying to see it as soon as it opens here.

Congress is also mulling over two versions of School Nutrition legislation. They will vote on the final version in days. One version takes money from the food stamp program, one does not. Neither adequately funds school lunches. About the best benefit of the legislation is that it will eliminate "competitive" foods in schools such as junk foods, processed snacks and fast foods. You can take action here. And read more about the issues with the new legislation here.

Now, the History Lesson

The first school lunch legislation was passed in 1946. The program was not designed as a way to help feed hungry kids alone. It was also established to use surplus agricultural commodities which in turn kept food prices from crashing. The program was funded with $10 million per year in 1946 dollars (114.6 million today) to feed 6.7 million children. Today's budget is $11 billion annually to feed 31 million kids daily.

What are "surplus agricultural commodities?" Commodities may not sound much like food, but historically this meant the basic items produced from a farm; corn, wheat, soy, rice, meat, milk, eggs, fruit and vegetables. Not so much now, but we'll get to that in a later lesson.

In many ways, the 1946 legislation was well-intentioned if not fairly administrated. Okay, it sounded good at least.

Here's a few other quotes from the 1946 legislation that might make us all yearn for the good old days, or at least the old days of good lunch as it was promised:
  • "The need for a permanent legislative basis for a school lunch program, rather than operating it on a year-to-year basis, or one dependent solely on agricultural surpluses that for a child may be nutritionally unbalanced or nutritionally unattractive, has now become apparent."
  • "It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food ..."
  • "The educational features of a properly chosen diet served at school should not be under-emphasized. Not only is the child taught what a good diet consists of, but his parents and family likewise are indirectly instructed."
While it may seem like some of our lunch items around today have enough preservatives to have endured since 1946, the lunch program then contained a lot fewer processed foods. It was 1946 after all. Here are the recommendations for a typical meal per child:

Milk, whole, 1/2 pint

Protein-rich food consisting of any of the following or a combination thereof:

  • 2 oz. Fresh or processed meat, poultry meat, cheese, cooked or canned fish
  • Dry peas or beans or soy beans, cooked, ½ cup
  • Peanut Butter, 4 tbsp.
  • Eggs, 1

Raw, cooked, or canned vegetables or fruits, or both, ¾ cup

Bread, muffins or hot bread made of whole grain cereal or enriched flour, 1 portion


So, at least 66 years ago, folks knew that our country's future was linked to healthy children. That not all agricultural commodities are healthy foods. And that the meal provided should be exemplary of what families should eat at home. The meal was also based on whole foods; milk, protein, vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

My, how we've changed. Next post, The Dark Side of School Lunch.

1 comment:

Renee at Applegate said...

Thanks for the blog post! Please know that you don’t have to wait until the Lunch Line screening comes to you, you can actually host your own screening in your town if you’d like! Click here for more info: http://bit.ly/cxFUa8

Thanks, Renee and the Applegate Crew