Harris School Solutions

The School Lunch: A Brief History

As early as the 1900s, teachers believed that children benefited both physically and mentally from school-provided lunches. School lunches have come a long way since then, but some things never change.  

Now, teachers continue to report that children who have a break to eat a healthy lunch perform better in the classroom, participate and are more engaged in classroom learning, perform better on tests, and have fewer behavioral issues, which often occur from hunger or hyperactivity. Except now, they have actual research and studies, rather than anecdotal evidence, to back up their assertations.  

How did school lunches begin? 

During the Industrial Revolution, child labor prevented school-age children from accessing education and a path to a better life. By 1900, 34 states had passed laws mandating that all children under the age of 14 must receive an education. The goal of these laws was to give children the means to escape lifelong poverty. 

Providing meals during school hours was a natural outcome of these laws, which kept children in classrooms for most of their day. School lunches began in Boston and Philadelphia, where welfare organizations provided meals to school children for a penny each. This ground-breaking advancement for children caught on in other cities and continued to grow across the nation with positive results. 

When the Great Depression hit, farms had a surplus with no way to pay laborers to harvest and get the farm yields to market. Children were hit the hardest, and the effects of their malnutrition were unmistakable. FDR’s New Deal aimed to remedy the impacts of malnutrition and hunger by buying the farmers’ surplus, hiring women to prepare school-time meals, and providing school lunches for children across the country. 

However, during WWII, another school lunch crisis hit. Food was being rationed, women were working in factories, and the availability of school lunches was in sharp decline. In 1946, Congress recognized the need to keep children healthy and fed at school and passed the National School Lunch Act.  

This strength and support for school-sponsored lunches continued to grow until the Reagan administration when funding was drastically cut, nutrition standards to provide healthy meals were virtually non-existing, and cases of child obesity rose exponentially. 

How are school meal programs working today? 

In 2010, Congress once again realized the importance of prioritizing, providing, and promoting healthy meals for children through comprehensive school lunch programs.   

The key areas for focus on school meals today are: 

  • Nutrition and Quality – Without a commitment to nutritious and quality foods, schools can end-up serving fast “kid-friendly” meals that end-up doing more harm than good to a child’s health. 
  • Operations and Efficiency – Streamlining processes can provide schools with the ability to offer healthy choices through shorter and faster lines, safely and securely receive payments, and adhere to National School Lunch Program (NSLP) guidelines and nutritional standards.
  • Engagement – By providing methods for students to give feedback regarding healthy choices, cafeteria management can significantly improve menu planning, purchasing and preparing meals that appeal to student tastebuds and preferences, and reducing food waste. Schools are implementing alternatives such as salad bars and whole-grain pizzas to balance nutrition and taste while making sure children eat their lunches rather than throw away their meals. 

Today, managing a cafeteria is more than simply providing a meal to a child–there is budgeting and planning, staff management, reporting and tracking, and so much more, all while more students are coming through the lunchlines than ever before. To effectively implement key focus areas and achieve successful outcomes, schools need technology advancements and software solutions that can streamline, track, and improve cafeteria management processes. With comprehensive cafeteria management software, schools receive help with healthy meal plans and preparation, implementation of a Point-of-Sale process that reduces cash-based purchases, and are able to engage students by enabling them to provide feedback on meals and menus.  

Best of all, software solutions help school lunch programs get back to their roots of feeding children and guiding them in making healthier decisions, while also simplifying and integrating operations and processes, and reducing costs. 

Harris School Nutrition Solutions has more than 30 years of experience in helping more than 4,000 schools across North America provide meals to their students. To learn more about advancements in cafeteria management software that can help your schools improve cafeteria management, contact our team of friendly experts.