Bostin Latin School ca. 1895 Rumford Kitchen Leaflets

Bostin Latin School ca. 1895 Rumford Kitchen Leaflets

In the beginning  . . . Boston as leader . . . .

Boston was the first school district in the country to offer lunches to its students. In the late 1890’s, Ellen Richards, a Boston scientist and one of the first nutritionists, opened the New England Kitchen, America’s first take out restaurant designed to feed the immigrant community nutritious, affordable meals. The Boston School Committee invited RIchards to test a school lunch program and the students at Boston Latin School, the oldest public school in the country, and 8 other Boston High schools, were the first students in the country to receive a hot midday meal at school. The link between nutrition and learning was made, although the test project itself was short lived.

Ellen Richards 10¢ school lunch 

Fish chowder 255 grams, Crackers 19grams, Bread & Butter and a Bun - total 692 calories 

Voluntary programs

By the early 1900’s many parents were working in factories outside of the home and children were often left to fend for themselves for lunch. Most schools, especially those located in poorer areas, had no kitchen or dining facilities which made preparing meals on-site impossible. In 1908 The Women’s Educational and Industrial Union set up in Boston and later in Philadelphia, to prepare hot meals in a central kitchen and transport them to local and participating high schools around the city. The Journal of Home Economics wrote “the teachers [in Boston] are unanimous in the belief that the luncheons are helping the children both physically and mentally.” By 1912 there were more than 40 voluntary school lunch programs around the country.

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Fighting unFit

In the Great Depression crop prices collapsed and hunger and malnutrition rates across the nation increased. People started thinking about a government supported school lunch program for the first time. The Department of Agriculture began buying up surplus commodities to serve in schools and FDR’s Works Progress Administration was used to cook and serve school lunches in needy areas. 

World War II found that up to one third of recruits were unfit for service due to malnutrition. The welfare of the nation’s children was now recognized as an issue of ‘national security’.

Today, it’s estimated that 29% of Americans are unfit for national service due to obesity.

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The National School Lunch Act

In 1946 President Truman signed the National School Lunch Act. For the first time there were federal regulations to enable needy students get access to free or reduced rate lunches which were operated on a non-profit basis. The meals were required to meet certain nutritional standards. The school lunch program was very successful and reached over 7 million students in its first year.  

Food comes cheap  . . . but at what price?

During the fifties and sixties we saw an enormous change in the way food was delivered to the  public. The government was intent on making food cheap so the country could be fed. With society in pursuit of home convenience, companies overreached in finding new ways to deliver processed food which required minimal or no effort in the kitchen. America became awash with ready made meals, high sugar drinks and highly processed foods, An excess of cheap, processed food high in sugar, starch, salt and trans fats has led to an epidemic of obesity.


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“Ketchup is a vegetable”

Under the  Reagan administration in the 80’s, federal support for the lunch program was cut back. With a reduced budget, portions shrank and eligibility was cut. To keep costs down government lowered standards and ketchup was accepted as meeting nutritional guidelines as a vegetable.

Private and for-profit companies began providing pre-prepared lunches for schools.

Boston cooking for Boston

Between 1970 and 2005 Boston used a central commissary to cook and send out meals to the school district. For more than 30 years BPS students received lunches prepped and packaged from the commissary. By 2005 the equipment was outdated and the decision was made to outsource the lunch program. 


Tanks or tomatoes?

In 1995 the Department of Defense was brought in to provide domestically grown fresh fruits and vegetables to schools. This was an extension to the DoD program supplying military bases in the United States. THE FIRST YEAR OF THE PROGRAM SAW 8 SCHOOLS PARTICIPATING, and BY 2010 THE DOD were DELIVERING TO 45 STATES. Boston and other cities use DoD produce for their school lunch program today. 

Healthy Hunger-Free Kids  

Obama’s Healthy Hunger-Free kids act introduced free breakfasts and lunches for every student in schools where 40% or more of the student body is identified as food insecure. ‘Community Elegibility’ got rid of food shaming and cut down on admin and made meals more accessible to more students. Cities like Boston, Atlanta, Detroit and Chicago all participate in the Community Eligibility program. The 2010 act also put forward new nutritional goals, limiting sodium levels and introducing whole grains. 


…going backwards?

The Trump administration rolls back the sodium and whole grain regulations citing that kids are less likely to eat food low in sodium and that whole grain foods are harder to source. Many districts, like Boston, maintain the tighter nutritional guidelines.