1635: Boston Latin was the first public school in America
1907-1944: Boston was one of the first cities (Philadelphia was the other) to create a hot lunch program for the children who attended school. The Women’s Educational and Industrial Union prepared the hot meals in a central kitchen and transported them to the local and participating high schools around the city. Most of the schools, especially those located in poorer areas had no kitchen or dining facilities, this made preparing the meals onsite difficult/impossible. The lunch program initiative was not only created to provide children with nutritious food, but it was also a way of teaching students healthier eating habits. In 1910, 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.”
1930s: By the 1930s the nation was hit was a huge economic crisis. The Great Depression caused crop prices to collapse and food to become scarce, leaving farmers with the inability to work and the rates of hunger and malnutrition to increase in poor children. With the first lunch program not being officiated or financially supported by the government, it was believed that an established and government supported school lunch program would be the best solution to combat these issues.
1941: The first federally supported school meal program was created and operated in all states with 64,298 individuals serving over 2 million lunches a day. Although this program was being funded by the government it was not was put into legislation until 1946. or officiated as an act. Aside from the success of the first federally supported school meal program, there was still a lack of labor and food supplies available due to WWII, which caused the ability of providing school lunches to continue to decrease as well.
1946: Shortly after the war, President Harry S. Truman signed the National School Lunch Act officiating the practice of providing school lunch to children in all states and making it a permanent program in the nation’s school system. The NSLA was described as: "It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation's children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities and other food, by assisting the States, through grants-in aid and other means, in providing an adequate supply of food and other facilities for the establishment, maintenance, operation and expansion of nonprofit school lunch programs.” The participating schools were required to:
1. Serve lunches meeting the minimum nutritional requirements prescribed by the Secretary.
2. Serve meals without cost or at reduced cost to children who were determined by local school authorities to be unable to pay the full cost of the lunch, and not to segregate or discriminate against such children in anyway.
3. Operate the program on a non-profit basis.
4. Utilize as far as practicable the commodities declared by the Secretary to be in abundance and to utilize commodities donated by the Secretary.
5. Maintain proper records of all receipts and expenditures and submit reports to the State agency as required.
1966: As a result of the success of the NSLA, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Child Nutrition Act which added more subsides for low-income children, added milk to school lunches, and established a breakfast program for students. The CNA also provided the authority for placing all school food services under one agency, “With one agency there could be uniform standards as to nutrition, sanitation, management of funds, supervision, guidance, use of equipment and space, and some guarantee of program continuity.”
1970-2005: Boston used a central commissary to provide school lunch to the BPS students. This commissary was not consistently regulated and ran into many issues along the way, causing to officially shut down in 2005.
1981: After decades of successfully implementing an officiated school lunch program, President Reagan and his administration began making drastic and harmful changes to the established system. They reduced the budget, shrank the lunch proportions, and lowered the number of poor children eligible for free or reduced lunch. Reagan is known for famously claiming that “ketchup is a vegetable.” With the lack of federal support, private and for-profit companies began providing prepackaged meals to schools. The nutritional standards were often neglected or loosely followed by these companies and school lunch became more about the quantity rather than the quality.
1995: Following the Reagan Administration, in 1994 The Food and Nutrition Service and The Agricultural Marketing Service created a pilot program to explore other options for providing schools with fresh fruits and vegetables. In 1995 the program was authorized and stated that the Department of Defense would deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to schools alongside their deliveries to military bases in the United States. In 1996 the program had 8 participating schools, by 2010 they were delivering to 45 states including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, The Virgin Islands, and Guam. Boston still uses this service in their school system today.
2010: Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. This act allows the Department of Agriculture to repair and enforce schools to meet the new nutritional standards for school meals, authorize funding, and set a policy for the UDSA’s core child nutrition programs.
2017: Trump administration under Secretary Perdue in the USDA rolls back the sodium and whole grain regulations.