In My Own Shoes: Remembering the angst of school lunch (2024)

That first day of school always brought a little bit of angst along with the excitement of a new year, a fresh slate, a stylish haircut, new penny loafers, and a brand new lunchbox with the cartoon character of the moment on the front.

So many decisions to make. What would I wear the first day? What will my new classroom be like? Will my new teacher like me? How hard will the subjects be? Will I have the same classes as most of my friends? But without a doubt, the one thing that kept me up the night before was, “Who will I have lunch with tomorrow?” What if my friends have a different lunch period than I do this year?

Happily, it usually worked out pretty well. As I walked slowly into the lunchroom my eyes darting furtively from table to table desperately trying to seek out someone familiar, I would almost always hear someone yell, “Hey, over here!” Whew. Blessed relief! Because “over here” usually meant at least a couple of the girls I knew and liked who liked me back. Always girls. The girls sat with the girls and the boys sat with other boys, and that was fine with us because they were goofy and liked to make strange noises and stuff their mouths, and then push their cheeks in, and it was yucky. Back then boys were gross and didn’t want any part of us either, other than to scare or torment us. We called them “goofy.” They called us “skeevy.” I never really found out what skeevy meant, but I knew it didn’t sound good and probably wasn’t. So, I happily sat with the girls, and what did we talk about? Goofy boys! That would change a few years hence.

Lunch was pretty uninteresting back then. Most of the kids who brought lunch from home had the requisite peanut butter and jelly or egg salad or tuna every single day. Some kids had carrot and celery sticks, others had cookies or apples. The lucky ones had Twinkies or Hostess Cupcakes. Then there were days when for one reason or another some of us didn’t bring lunch. If my mother had an appointment and didn’t have time that morning to make lunch, she got my dad to give me lunch money. That sounded pretty cool until I hit the lunch line. The “lunch ladies” formed a veritable backfield behind the serving line, and to us, they all looked exactly alike. They were short, their figures sort of dumped into starched white uniforms, they all had glasses, and they all wore hairnets. It was virtually impossible to tell them apart; still, the one thing they all had in common was telling us, “Eat your vegetables, children. Don’t you want to grow up big and strong?” We hated to hear that and hated it even more when everyone was served and a couple of the lunch ladies came out into the cafeteria to see who had scarfed down the soggy, grayish peas, and who left them lying on the plate. Lord help those who either hadn’t eaten them or found a way to hide them under the grayish meatloaf. But the one thing we all knew was that those women didn’t look at serving us lunch as their only job... they were fully invested in us, so often you would hear, “Billy, tuck that shirt in. Where do you think you are?” or sometimes, “Margie, pull your hair back, your ponytail is trailing in the turkey gravy, honey.” These underpaid women cared about each and every one of us, made it a point to learn all our names, and when I had the measles, one of them even called home to check on me. In a very short time, school lunch wasn’t an uncertain time of which friends would I would eat with, but a welcome time to see the smiling ladies behind the mashed potatoes and turkey slices and to know that someone besides my parents honestly cared about me.

The food was inconsequential and in most cases not very good, but there were lessons learned in that cafeteria every day that were never taught in any classroom, the ones I took with me and remember, even now.

It wasn’t listed on the menu along with the gummy lasagna, white bread, and little cartons of milk, but it sure filled us up.

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 21 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at or 401-539-7762.

In My Own Shoes: Remembering the angst of school lunch (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Amb. Frankie Simonis

Last Updated:

Views: 6228

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (76 voted)

Reviews: 91% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Amb. Frankie Simonis

Birthday: 1998-02-19

Address: 64841 Delmar Isle, North Wiley, OR 74073

Phone: +17844167847676

Job: Forward IT Agent

Hobby: LARPing, Kitesurfing, Sewing, Digital arts, Sand art, Gardening, Dance

Introduction: My name is Amb. Frankie Simonis, I am a hilarious, enchanting, energetic, cooperative, innocent, cute, joyous person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.