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Nostalgia: USA public school cafeteria food

post #1 of 46
Thread Starter 
Can any of you recommend a cookbook for me? I just had some instant mashed potatoes that took me back to the '70's. I thought of my old high school and it brought tears to my eyes. And I gagged, just like the good old days.

How can I recreate that cafeteria food? Is it just as good now as it was before? What are their secrets?
post #2 of 46
Most schools have abandoned the old tasteless yet semi-nutritious meals for soda pop and fried food and burgers. In my high school there were two lines: the standard lunch line and "Burger City." It was slightly more expensive and infinitely worse for you. As you may have imagined, it was burgers and fries.

Less kids are drinking milk and opting for sugar drinks. Its more expensive for the parents by quite a bit.

School food is dead
post #3 of 46
The secret is Whirl. Use Whirl. :eek:
post #4 of 46
That's easy, Yeti. Go to a big yard sale, or search around on-line. What you want is a Betty Crocker, Better Homes and Gardens, or similar "easy cooking at home" cookbook. Where you've got a choice, focus on the "quick" and "easy": this will usually mean premade shortcuts, such as canned cream of mushroom, tomato, or cheese soup; jello; powdered milk and mashed potatoes; frozen par-boiled vegetables, etc.

The results should be very palatable in a sort of trashy, bland kind of way. If you actually want to reproduce the horrors of a school lunch line, rather than do a little trash-nostalgia, cook everything well in advance using the lowest-price ingredients available and let it all sit covered with foil in a low oven -- not so low that your food rots or anything, but enough so you get that unpleasant warmed-over flavor. Be sure to under-season in terms of herbs and at the same time over-salt. Always use the cheapest margarine in preference to butter.

For a real trip down memory lane, you'll need two assistants. Have the first grunt unpleasantly while dishing the stuff into a plate on a tray, and then slam an over-full cup of Kool-Aid or the like next to it. Now pick it up, and have the other assistant push you from behind unexpectedly and laugh when it all gets mushed up.

Out of interest, why would you want to do this?
post #5 of 46
In je 50s in NYC was a school called Food Trades Voch High School. One of the culinary arts instructors was named Sidney Aptikar. Sid wrote the US navy Cooking Training manual.
The Bureau of School lunches based their menues and prep on this manual for years.
Sid went on to work on a new magazine that came out of Chicago. He took the pen name "Thomas Mario," that magazine was Hefs Playboy. check the early issues. he also developed menues for the original Playboy clubs. How do I know this? Sid was one of my first cooking instructors.
post #6 of 46
Thread Starter 
Why would I want to do this? To punish people. Those assistants are a great idea, too.

Whirl, huh . . . I'll have to give that a try.

So those Playboy clubs had Navy food? :lol:
post #7 of 46
You have to make tater tot hotdish :lol: hamburger, cream of chicken soup, frozen mixed veg, tater tots. I still make it once in a while!
post #8 of 46
Don't forget the "creamed spinach"! It had the appearance of "bovine processed alfalfa".
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
post #9 of 46
Thread Starter 
Yum, I'm getting really hungry again.
post #10 of 46
Uhm you know folks outside of MN don't what hotdish means. :lol:
post #11 of 46
True :lol:
post #12 of 46
Thread Starter 
True, I don't know :crazy: But in the context it sounded good. Must be something really special.
post #13 of 46
in my school area we had fairly decent meals...wait..no..they sucked too. school lunches comprised of what i now think of as prison food in a wrap. we had the "cold" tray, a plastic compartmented tray sealed with a iron on cellophane, kinda like a Lunchable. It would have your salad (shredded iceberg with either "ranch" or "italian") and desert (actually these rocked, so much so, i had a teacher who would forgive..ahem "minor incidents" for either chocolate chip cookies or the peanut butter chocolate bar)

then the "hot" tray would have various things, corn dogs, enchiladas (fave), hamburgers that would do an AM/PM proud or turkey and gravy with mashed potatoes (would trade for a dog turd before eating it, i could at least put the turd to some good prank). in the school system I grew up in we ate this school "lunch" from kindergarten to 8th grade. I should probably sue for current healthy problems contracted during my formative years.
"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
post #14 of 46
Thread Starter 
mmmm corn dogs, how could we forget those? I wonder if the corn counted as a vegetable. And with ketchup, another vegetable, what a nutritious meal :crazy:
post #15 of 46
hotdish = casserole for the non-Minnesotans :lol:
post #16 of 46
tuna fish+noodles+cream of chicken= nutritious food........or so I have been told
"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
"In those days spirits were brave, the stakes were high, men were real men, women were real women, and small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri were real small furry creatures from Alpha Centauri. "
post #17 of 46
My high school has five lines. Two for hot foods, the chicken nuggets, burgers, enchiladas, pizza,etc. Then we have an Italian line with the best gray Alfredo sauce with a 1/2 inch of oil you could possibly imagine *insert teenage sarcasm here*. Then we have a sub sandwich line which isn't horrible, just not great. And we have a mexican/chinese line, can't help but gag. The boyfriend dragged me through and made me get a slice of pizza, spent 4 paper towels getting some of the grease off of the top. Ended up going home early because it hit my acid reflux pretty hard.

That, my friends, is today's lunch lines in Texas.
It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
It's a wonderful thing to be spoiled in the way of food.
post #18 of 46
Thread Starter 
Wow, 5 choices of how to blow up your gut. That's progress :lol:

Well from what you say, at least one of them is somewhat edible. That's a good thing.
post #19 of 46
Hamburger gravy! You have to make that. What an epicurean delight! I still make it sometimes. You have to use cheap beef base though, or it won't taste right. My mom used to try to make it at home using gravy from a roast beef, but it just doesn't work. Doesn't have the salty/ chalky taste. And yes, I truely do like it. Oddly enough, it's one of the few old things that kids today will still eat. They won't eat any of the other stuff that we did. 'Course I had most of my school time in before the advent of protein pellets added to the ground beef, so we were eating real beef and it tasted better. What I could never stand (even the smell of) was "school pizza" The stuff comes in sheet pan size pieces that you break apart into serving pieces. You wouldn't believe the adults that get excited over that when some cafeteria runs it. And our turkey gravy over mashed was excellent. Everybody took hot lunch the day they had that. Only once a year, right before Thanksgiving. It was also the only day of the year that we got ice cream for lunch.
post #20 of 46
The problem with proper hotdish is that made well it's very good. It doesn't recapture that horrible school lunch line experience.

1 can tuna
1 can mushroom soup
1 qt egg noodles
crumbled potato chips
shredded cheese

Boil the noodles, fold together with the tuna, mushroom soup, minced celery, and peas. Top with chips and cheese. Cover with foil, bake 1/2 hour at 350, uncover and continue baking 10-15 minutes until browned. Some add a little milk to soften the mushroom soup, but this isn't really necessary if you don't over-drain the noodles. I am not a fan of Velveeta, but here's a place to try it. You could of course replace the mushroom soup with sauce Bechamel and some sauteed mushrooms, but now you're talking haute cuisine.

Hamburger hotdish usually has tomato soup or canned tomatoes in addition to the mushroom soup, so adjust quantities accordingly. The hamburger is of course cooked and drained in advance.

Honestly, it's all in Betty Crocker.
post #21 of 46
I used to love school lunches. Mom's lunch box was a peanut butter sandwich on wonder bread. I'd have to buy a carton of milk. I don't remember much else.

SO when I could come up with the $0.35 for a school lunch it was gourmet time for me. There were rules. YOu had to take two buttered breads. They would take a wheat bread slice and butter it and lay it on a white bread and then they would slice it on the diagonal. ON the diagonal!!! That was true gourmet. Never was allowed to cut bread at home that way. "Not the way we do things around here".

Then there were the "hamburgers". They were loose meat, didn't taste like sloppy joes, nor like maid rites, had flour or some starch in them, but they were ok. Then mashed potatoes with gravy, and almost always little green peas. I would pepper them both up and dip the bread in the gravy.

Once in a while they would make pizza. In huge restaurant size cooking sheets. It was a bit greasy, but very good pizza with a nice crust. I actually volunteered to work in the kitchen to try to find out how they made these things. Don't remember what I learned. I think they wouldn't let me cook or help cook because I was too young. I got to carry stuff out to the food line, and bring back empty food containers. I think...

ANd you got a dessert, usually a piece of pie, and a milk. All for $0.35.

For a while you could get two hamburgers for an extra $0.25. Then some auditor said "Can't do that", so you had to buy two full lunches for $0.70 in order to get the second hamburger (or piece of pizza). We usually just threw the rest of the 2nd lunch away. Too much to eat even for high school kids.

And that was ok according to the authorities.

Ah, politics even in the early 1960's.

post #22 of 46
That's funny, my mother was the same way. Some of my friends got their sandwiches cut diagonally, and that seemed very neat to me, I don't know why. I asked my mother to do the same, and she informed me that this was "ridiculous" and refused to do it. I still wonder why. I always assumed it was just my mother, but apparently not?
post #23 of 46
How hard is it to overcook thin hamburger patties, overboil green beans, cook and slice processed turkey, make instant mashed potatoes, and make instant chocolate pudding?
post #24 of 46
Thread Starter 
But to get them exactly right is another question. For example, how many hours should the veges be overboiled by? Or if it's days of rewarming, how many days?
post #25 of 46
Don't know how long it takes, but you have to boil the peas (canned of course, so they're already cooked once) until they burst and have dents all over them and dark dry spots. Delta Doc's post reminded me of how they used to take the bread crusts, butter the crust side, turn it white-side-out and stick it to another piece of bread. Guess they thought we wouldn't notice it was the heel of the loaf that way. My mom used to bake her own bread, so of course I always wanted to trade for someone's Wonder bread sandwich. Sometimes she'd buy raisin bread and make bologna sandwiches with that. Surprisingly good, the sweet raisins and salty bologna. Get hungry for one once in awhile. Not long ago a friend of mine was saying how she was afraid to send an egg salad sandwich in her husband's lunch in case it would get warm. We used to carry our lunch in plain bags or lunch boxes (no insulation) and put them on top of the coat rack in the back of the classroom. On Fridays, everyone had egg salad (Catholic school) and by lunch time the classroom would stink to high heaven. Even worse in the lunch room after everyone unwrapped their sandwiches. If you happened to have peanut butter, it was unbearable to sit next to someone with the stinky egg salad, but if you were actually eating the egg salad, it didn't bother you. (Kind of like cigars- the stink doesn't bother you if you're the one smoking it.) None of us ever died or even got sick, that I recall. To this day I don't think egg salad tastes quite like it should if it doesn't stink. We didn't have actual pizza. We had pizza burgers which were a pizza flavored sloppy joe spread on half a bun and baked. They were actually pretty good. my experience with "school pizza" came later when I worked in a school cafeteria.
post #26 of 46
I think these days if you have a P&J sandwich someones mother will insist it be confiscated by a hazmat team.
post #27 of 46
These days, it's fairly common to have schools be either peanut-friendly or peanut-free. If it's peanut-free, nobody brings peanut butter or else.

To be fair, there are increasing numbers of children with lethal allergies to peanuts. When I was a kid, somebody with an allergy was probably going to get hives or something. These days, the kids die shockingly fast. There is a lot of speculation about what's causing this increased incidence, but no good answers. The pediatricians I've asked about it (only 3, but well up in their profession) tell me that the one thing they are certain of is that the increasing incidence is not merely increased reporting, as may be the case with salmonella for example. There is increased incidence, and there is increased lethality. Beyond that, they don't really know -- anyway, they didn't as of 2 years ago.
post #28 of 46
my schools was so bad, we cut and went to a BETTER place.....McDonalds.
post #29 of 46
Its being WELL overblown. Mild reactions are scaring parents into maybe the NEXT one will be fatal.

In 2005 the number of real documented food allergy deaths was 11. You might see a number like 150-200 out there but thats really just bad science at work, produced by agenda driven people, for the press, which ironically includes a major manufacturer of epi-pens.

Food allergies are real, but most of it is media driven scare tactics and misinformed parents.

but now we have solid data for almost ten years. The underlying number of food allergy deaths according to ICD-10 codes isn't publicly available in CDC databases because it is so small--statistically insignificant, according to the CDC. A call to the CDC press office revealed that the number of deaths from food allergies, as collected from 2.5 million death certificates across the country, is miniscule. Only eleven people died from food allergies in 2005, the last year for which we have data available. More people died from lawnmower accidents.
post #30 of 46
Do you remember a cookbook called "Food for Fifty"? Try that.

I lived on my own for the last year of high school. I would go into the cafeteria in the morning and help the ladies lift the heavy stuff, open a bunch of #10 cans and whatever. They would hook me up when I came through the line. I also hooked up with one of the lady's girls. Next year will be our 30 year anniversary. So my school lunch memories are better than some!
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