History of Cafeteria Foods

Schools first began providing food for children because so many were undernourished and farmers had extra crops to sell. What started as a good cause has become a big problem. Children in the 1950s might have joked about the “mystery meat,” but school cafeterias in the past served real food.  Ladies in hairnets mashed “real” potatoes, boiled “real” pasta and even baked “real” cookies. Most of the food was free of dyes and artificial flavors which has been known to trigger bad behavior, decreased learning capacity, and health problems. In the 1950s vending machines didn't line the hallways.  There was no such thing as a lime green sports drinks or energy drinks.

Today the food being served to millions of children in cafeterias has been substituted by many artificial ingredients compared to the past.  These substitutes allow the vendors to produce at a much cheaper price.  These lower prices typically result in an unhealthy substitutes.  Instead it has turned into a collection of strange, unpronounceable chemicals that have little relation to the nutrients that humans should consume.  Although, school districts across the country have been taking steps to make food in schools healthier due to the new federal guidelines and awareness that a growing number of children are overweight. In California, deep fryers have been banned, which resulted in chicken nuggets and fries being baked.
In New Jersey, 20-ounce sports drinks have been cut back to 12 ounces.

Top 5 Meals in Cafeteria’s “Back Then” (Simple)
1. Salisbury steak
2. Macaroni and cheese
3. Peanut butter and jelly
4. Cheese pizza
5. Cheeseburger and tater tots


Examples of Cafeteria Food Now (Variety)
-BBQ Chicken Ranch Salad
-Tomato Soup
-Navy Bean & Ham Soup
-Matzo Ball Soup
-Macaroni & Cheese w/ Wild Mushrooms & Chicken

Example of a school meal in 1914:
  • Baked beans and roll (5 cents)
  • Cocoa or milk (2 cents)
  • Cracker or ice cream (1 cent)

Example of a school meal in 1924
  • Peanut butter and wheat bread sandwiches
  • Raisin gingerbread, apple
  • Milk

Example of a school meal in 1944
  • Cream of Tomato Soup, crackers
  • Carrot and Cabbage Sandwich
  • Deviled eggs, apple

Examples of Cafeteria Food Laws:

-Senate Bill 12, passed in 2005, set standards for foods for public schools in California. These standards   set a limit to the amount of non-nutritious competitive foods that can be sold in grades K-12. 

-Senate Bill 965, passed in 2005, set standards for beverages for public schools in California. A portion of beverages had to meet SB 965 criteria by July 1, 2007 and all beverages sold to students must meet SB 965 criteria by July 1, 2009.

All USDA rules and regulations

Click here to view the old elementary school lunches compared to now!