The evolving concept of a school lunch

Here at Smart Lunches Global HQ, we’re re-inventing school lunches for kids at schools that can’t offer an on-site lunch. For those children and their families, we’re frequently the first alternative to a packed lunch they’ve had. When we first meet those families and tell them what we can do — not just save them packing lunch but provide something tasty and super nutritious too, we get a tremendous response.

But from time to time when I’m telling people about what we’re doing, I get a puzzled look instead. That’s how I know that whoever I’m talking to doesn’t realize just how many schools aren’t able to provide on-site meals for their students. Hundreds just in greater Boston alone!

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I thought about that — how our society in the U.S. that just assumes every school provides lunch — when I was in New York City recently with my family. In between shows and restaurants, we fit in a visit to the New York Public Library’s excellent temporary exhibit about the history of lunch in the U.S., called Lunch Hour NYC.

The exhibit uses the library’s vast archives of restaurant menus and other ephemera, going back a hundred years or more, to show how our notion has evolved over time of what constitutes “lunch.” Of course my favorite part was the section on school lunches.

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In 1917, the notion that schools should provide meals on site was brand-new and very controversial.

One hundred years later, with the support of the National School Lunch Program, public schools now generally provide a lunch.

But a healthy one? One that kids gobble up? Rarely. Thus, the new debate — not whether a school should share in the responsibility to see kids fed, but… fed what?!

However, lest you think all I want to do is partake in the fiery debate about today’s poor quality standards for school lunches, I also had to share this, a quick snap of the wonderful array of 1960-era lunch boxes for those of us who lugged our lunch to school each day. I spotted a few I’d had or remembered. Was there anything more exciting before the first day of school than picking out your new lunchbox?!

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Soon at Smart Lunches we hope to tap into that fun by giving our Smart Lunchers a chance to participate in selecting lunch boxes.

In the meantime, we hope everyone has fun with our tremendous new menu for fall 2012. We worked hard on it all summer and we’re excited to see what you think.

I’m betting that Porcupine Sliders will be the big fall hit!

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