Let me see if I can take some of the 40-plus readers back to elementary school.
Gone are the days when almost all the teachers were women, when we had religion class every Thursday morning, when altar servers were excused from school to serve a daytime funeral mass, and when there were two recesses. Things certainly have changed. And one of the biggest changes between today and my day, at which I marvel daily, is school lunches.
Maybe it’s because I went to such a small school that I find such a huge difference. In River Bourgeois, we had in the neighbourhood of 120 kids in total from Grade primary to Grade 8, if my memory serves me correctly. There was no cafeteria or lunch room of any kind; all the kids ate lunch at their desks in their classrooms.
And there was nothing fancy, you can trust me when I say that. Pretty much everybody I knew took a sandwich, usually peanut butter and jam, sometimes just peanut butter alone or Cheez Whiz. Now and then, someone’s mom would get really fancy and throw in something a bit more exotic like egg salad or roast beef. And every single one of those sandwiches was made with white bread.
Snacks weren’t much fancier. Wagon Wheels were popular back then, and you were lucky to get one of those, a piece of fruit, and a juice pack in your lunch can. I remember thinking the kids who took brand name Fruit Roll-Ups and Dips chocolate covered granola bars were rich.
On the third Wednesday of every month we’d have hot lunch. Someone would take orders in the morning and a bunch of moms would come into school and prepare food in the teacher’s room, which was barely large enough to fit all the teachers, let alone a bunch of moms cooking. Hot dogs and hamburgers were 50 cents each, but the real draw was mini-pizza day – half an English muffin with sauce, a piece of pepperoni, and some cheese, and those bad boys sold for a measly 25 cents each. Most kids got three or four of them, but one of my friends used to get six, and who could blame him.
High school was a bit different, as we had slightly more access to food during our lunch breaks at SPDH. Most of my friends got something entirely lunch-inappropriate from the school canteen (I personally ate a bag of roast chicken chips and a milk every day for four years). The real game changer, though, was being able to get food from Parker’s Restaurant. You could place your order in the morning and bam, mozza fries delivered for lunch. We were on top of the world.
But in 2018 it’s a whole new ball game, food-wise.
Yesterday my son had a full turkey dinner served to him at school, along with approximately 600 other students. They have a modern, fully-functional cafeteria with a menu that would knock your cotton socks right off. Every time I read the choices I’m in awe: soft beef tacos with Mexican rice and a side of corn; spaghetti and meat sauce with Caesar salad and garlic toast; barbeque chicken drumsticks with mashed potatoes and vegetables. A good friend of mine runs the cafeteria, and I was only half joking when I asked her if I could go in for lunch.
And in every school, there are strict nutritional guidelines that are mandated by the government and have to be followed, so all the meals are balanced and relatively healthy. Not that Cheez Whiz sandwiches weren’t, in their own way, but now parents can know their kids are getting good food every single day without having to prepare it themselves.
And in high school the offerings are even more extensive. There is a cafeteria at SAERC, but I know most kids leave at lunch and go into town to get food, where the options are pretty much unlimited. There are any numbers of fast food places, the pizza shop, and the grocery stores have a huge selection of good, hot, student-priced food at their delis. Even the bigger restaurants and pubs offer student specials.
Let’s just be clear – given those options, my prom dress wouldn’t have been a size 7. There is much to be said for evolution.