“Cafeteria workers serving lunch at Duplin County Schools, 1949-1950.” Photograph Collections, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC.

Drawing on the principles of the “Basic 7,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) mandated that participating schools offer meals with at least one third of each child’s recommended daily allowances. While the USDA provided ingredients and recipes, ultimately school cafeteria staff determined what was on the menu, doing their best to feed students despite limited resources, equipment, and space. Many schools, particularly those in urban areas, lacked the space for an industrial kitchen. Little funding was available to construct or equip new cafeterias, so those cafeterias borrowed production techniques from fast-food chains, increasingly offering low-cost, easy to prepare, frozen, and processed foods.

Departments of Agriculture and Health, Education, and Welfare, “The National School Lunch program—Is It Working?” (1977), 3. See also, Poppendieck, Janet. Free for All: Fixing School Food in America, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010), 50 and Levine, Susan. School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America’s Favorite Welfare Program, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008), 93.

Where is it located in the Museum?

What was on the menu for the National School Lunch Program?