The average graduate of a U.S. high school likely has mixed feelings about the lunches served at said high school. Some people hated virtually everything served on those infamous trays, while in most cases there were at least a few undeniably tasty dishes in most schools. Regardless, there is a lot of history behind those questionable lunches.

When students were first mandated to attend school in 1918, lunch was the largest meal of the day with both workers and children usually returning home to eat each day, or eating bagged lunches if they lived too far away, according to Private schools served lunches, but public schools did not.

In a time when hunger really was more prominent than today, it's hard to forget that many children likely went without due to poverty. No school lunch programs existed until 1894, and even then only Philadelphia had created such a program - a penny lunch program - made possible by the Starr Center Association.

Other states slowly added school lunches with help from welfare organizations. Boston teachers in 1910 came to a near unanimous consensus that their students learned better if all of them were fed, a belief that continues today among virtually every academic institute in the country. In 1910, these lunches in Boston consisted of milk and a sandwich eaten at the student's desk. After all, students were only just beginning to get school lunches, so there were no lunch rooms.

By 1941, federally supported school meal programs were operated in every state, but not necessarily every school. President Franklin Roosevelt had tied school lunches to his New Deal. Surplus crops were purchased from farmers through the New Deal and cooked by women hired through the New Deal and then served to students. This caused the program to grow for many years until rationing during World War II threatened the program.

It was in 1946 that school lunches finally became permanently mandated when President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act. The act declares itself to be a measure of national security “to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's children."

Lunch options then expanded to hamburgers, fries, pasta, vegetables and many foods familiar to our readers.

The program grew under Presidents Eisenhower and Nixon. In 1966, more subsidies were added to the program for low-income children and milk and breakfast programs were added. In addition, efforts were made to use school lunches to teach students about healthy portioning. President Ronald Reagan famously reversed many of the steps taken by his predecessors by reducing subsidies, shrinking lunch portions to save money and even declaring ketchup was a vegetable to get around nutrition standards.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama famously acted as a cheerleader attempting to create support for a bill authored by Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arizona (not by the first lady, contrary to popular beliefs) called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The act was largely aimed at reducing childhood obesity and updating standards to have less dependence on carbs reflecting updated nutrition guidelines.

It was the first major change to the federal school lunch program in more than 30 years and it helped open the doors to schools using more local foods, ironically resembling the original federal program's origins.

The act has returned to the public eye recently. I'll leave it to my readers to determine their opinion on the subject. After all, you came here for history and school lunch recipes, not politics.

Travis Grimler may be reached at 218-855-5853 or Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at

Rectangle School Pizza

Courtesy of


  • 2 2/3 cups flour
  • ¾ cup powdered milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 packet of quick rise yeast
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 2/3 cups warm water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil


  • ½ pound ground chuck
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 1 8-ounce block mozzarella cheese or imitation mozzarella shreds


  • 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • ½ tablespoon dried oregano
  • ½ tablespoon dried basil
  • ½ teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed

Spray half a sheet pan with nonstick spray and lay down parchment paper. In a large bowl mix the dry crust ingredients. Add the oil to the water and pour into your dry ingredients. Stir until a batter forms. Don't worry about lumps, just make sure there are no dry spots.

Spread the dough onto the pan using your fingertips until it is even. You may need to allow it to rest five minutes to be more cooperative. Bake this crust 8-10 minutes at 475 degrees.

Brown the meat until it resembles crumbles then set aside. Combine all sauce ingredients and mix well. Spread the sauce on the partially cooked crust then sprinkle the cooked meat over evenly followed by cheese. Bake this at 475 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until the cheese melts and begins to brown. Allow this to stand 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Toasty Dogs

  • Hot dogs
  • Sliced bread
  • American cheese

These can be made one at a time, or in large quantities. Begin by breaking or cutting the cheese slices in half. On each slice of bread lay one hot dog along with two cheese halves. If you are making enough toasty dogs for a group, you should be able to pack these all in a baking pan in such a way that they keep the bread cupped around the dog; otherwise, wrap a small strip of aluminum foil, 1-inch wide approximately, around each dog to keep the bread formed around the dog and cheese.

Bake these at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes (some people will pre-boil the hot dogs and butter the outside of the slices of bread).