At my elementary school we had options. Every day the cafeteria offered two choices of nourishing lunches. Unit one was the standard hot lunch, and unit two was soup and a sandwich. Either one could be purchased for the whopping sum of fifty-five cents. I image my mother felt like her time and effort was worth considerably more than fifty-five cents, because I don’t remember ever, even once, taking a lunch from home. For some mysterious reason we owned a lunchbox, festooned with the likes of Tony the Tiger and Snap, Crackle, & Pop, but that lunchbox never entered the halls of ERS, at least not in my hand.
Mrs. F was the warden of the cafeteria. Although I’m sure she had nothing to do with the menu planning or food preparation, she was the woman with the microphone, so she was dubbed “the lunch lady.” She was a large woman who gave the impression that she power lifted and hunted small defenseless animals in her spare time. She had an assistant, a tiny birdlike woman, who would simply appear without warning when you least expected her. Mrs. F was frightening, but the bird-woman was downright creepy.
In spite of the intimidating adult company, lunch was a welcome break. We ate real food from real plates with real silverware. There was nothing frozen or prepackaged, aside from the very occasional ice cream cup, served with a wooden spoon. The pancakes were another culinary treat. They were served with sausage and maple syrup, and in my memory they were delicious. Everyone loved Pancake Day. In fact the pancakes were so popular that ERS put on a yearly pancake breakfast. The smell of the sausage alone was intoxicating. The fact that sausage was barred from our house made it taste that much better.
School lunches have changed a lot over the years. Trays are cardboard or Styrofoam, making them difficult to tell apart from some of the food. There are some good options, but an awful lot of bad ones too, like the food formerly known as fish-sticks, now called “trout treasures.” At least now students have salad and yogurt options, along with the round, pre-packaged, crust-less peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Schools have to be careful, though, with food allergies, religious preferences, and nutritional guidelines. These constraints sometimes lead to weird outcomes, like the pairing of cucumber slices with my own beloved pancakes. Nowadays, the sausages are either turkey or soy, the syrup is reduced sugar, and the cucumbers? Well, they’re just wrong.