"It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like 'What about lunch?'
-- Winnie the Pooh
It's a stone-cold wonder that any of us over age 12 are even alive, since we did not have the advantage of Michelle Obama's reformed school lunch program.
We thought Nutrition was a brand of peanut butter.
It's a miracle we don't all weigh 600 pounds. They gave a slice of pizza for lunch (deliciously burned on the edges) with green beans. Always green beans... who decided those two things go together? Now grilled cheese and tomato soup, those things were born to be together, and after all these years out of a lunchroom, I still don't eat one without the other.
On the best days ever, handed to you on a stained plastic tray was nirvana - with beams of light emanating from the entree compartment and an imaginary choir of angels singing the Hallelujah Chorus... chili and cinnamon roll! A nice sheen of tasty grease on top of the bowl with that enticingly spicy smell that wafted all the way down the halls and made a kid's stomach mutter "is it lunch time yet??" and a roll the size of a Buick, so sticky you'd be licking it off your hands all afternoon. No good grade ever felt as good as those amazing cinnamon rolls tasted.
The things we ate would cause Mrs. O to drop in a dead faint. Remember Wiener Winks - basically a hot dog wrapped in a slice of toast that had been slathered in butter, with maybe a half-raw strip of bacon for good measure? The infamous "Blonde Brownie?" Fish Stick Fridays. Or some kind of goulash with meat from an unidentifiable animal that was apparently too slow to outrun the hairnet-sporting lunch lady and too weak to outfight her (nicknamed Barf-a-roni of course)? Despised tuna casserole with peas so hard they crunched audibly between your teeth. Beef burgers on the forever "school made bun" because they thought that made it sound tastier (aka Manwich)?
Those must have been the days before free and reduced price lunches, because in our family school lunch was considered to be a much-anticipated luxury. We kids pored over the school lunch menu printed in the local paper to decide which day or two a week we wanted to spend our culinary windfall on.
I can recall being ashamed to bring a mom-packed lunch in a lunchbox (do those still exist?) to elementary school. Sometimes I would hide in the bathroom to eat it. Thick, hand-sliced slabs of bread surrounding egg salad or bologna which for the first couple of weeks of school sported tomatoes from her garden, where she battled rabbits with all of the ferocity of Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill.
Now I know how lucky I was, and what I wouldn't give for another of those lunches, or more importantly, a chance to thank her.
One of a kid's most important possessions was the lunch card, which had to be punched each day. Many frantic morning searches ensued, and an occasional soft, damp card with no writing left had to be presented in line because it had gone through the laundry.
By senior year in high school, the allure of lunch had worn thin, and my after-school job earnings were squandered on a daily diet consisting of an ice cream bar and carton of chocolate milk. Not exactly what Obamamama envisions.
So, how could such unbalanced meals be served and still kids weren't blimps? I'll tell you. As soon as the school bell rang, you ran outside to play, and you didn't come in until mom issued the third and final call for supper, or it got too dark to see. Jacks or king of the mountain, pickup kickball games, playing .500 with a bat and ball if you didn't have enough kids for baseball. Snowball fights or splashing in a creek. It doesn't matter how perfect and pyramid-ed your meals are, if you go home and sit your butt in front of the Smart TV or PS4, or lie in bed texting all night with never any exercise. Welcome to "Husky" jeans, or as they more kindly call them now, "loose fitting."
I'll applaud the efforts to improve school lunch with more fruit, vegetables and fiber; but honestly, it often doesn't look like enough to get an active, growing child through the day to me. And I see a lot of kids dumping that nutrition into the garbage, then probably going home to raid the junk food. It's also asinine that perfectly good, unused, extra food in schools is banned from being used for programs to feed the hungry and needy in the community.
I was raised believing that food - and pretty much everything else - shouldn't go to waste. History, either. So here's an original recipe that every former kid should remember, straight from a long-time lunch lady:
School Cafeteria Yeast Rolls
2 packages active dry yeast, 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
10 oz warm water, 3 tablespoons shortening
1/4 cup dry milk, 1 egg (beaten)
1/3 cup sugar 4 cups all purpose flour
Soften yeast in 4 oz of the water. Add the remainder of the water (6oz) in another bowl. Add the sugar, salt, shortening and dry milk to this bowl. Add 1 1/4 cup flour and mix well. Add softened yeast and beaten egg. Add the remaining flour (2 3/4 cup) to make a soft dough. Knead until smooth and satiny. Place dough in a greased bowl and grease the top of the dough. Cover and let rise until double. Knead and shape rolls. Let rise again until doubled. Bake at 350* for 20-25 minutes. Brush with butter if you like after they come out of the oven. This dough can be used to make cinnamon rolls.
But you better be sure to go climb the rope or run the laps afterward.