Vintage School Lunch Recipes and Menus (1916-1960)

With school fast approaching, if it hasn’t already arrived, I thought it would be fun to have a little look at the history of school lunch in the United States.

I won’t be covering the historical evolution of the school lunch programs or nutritional requirements in detail, at least not right now. This is more of a sampling/selection of recipes and resources I found dated between the years 1916 and 1960. Consider it something of a visual timeline!

There are plenty more where these came from, just click the links to the digitized texts in the Internet Archive. I hope you have as much fun as I did perusing these old recipes!

School Lunch Recipe Timeline

1916: “The Rural School Lunch.”

Cheese Fondue (more common than you’d think)

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1928: “School Lunch Box.” Radio Transcript

Sandwiches Six Ways

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1929: “School Lunch Box.” Radio Transcript.

Scotch Wafers plus Sample Menu

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1934: “School Lunches with Recipes to Serve 50 Children.” This one includes three weeks’ worth of menus! This should give you a good idea of what a 30’s-era school lunch would have looked like.

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Codfish, Spaghetti, and Tomatoes

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1943: “School Lunch Recipes”

Liver and Rice Loaf
Soya-Egg Roll

1944: Lunch at School. If you’re interested in reading about three types of lunch sponsorships and nutritional requirements as laid out by the War Food Administration, check out this six-page pamphlet.

1949:“School Lunch Recipes Using Potatoes”

Codfish-Potato Cakes

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1949: “School Lunch Recipes Using Cheese”

Cheeseburger Sandwich

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1951: “School Lunch Recipes Using Turkey”Β 

Turkey Pie and Turkey Noodle Scallop

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1953: “Additional school lunch recipes : supplement to School lunch recipes for main dishes and desserts”

Date-Peanut Butter Pudding

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1959: School lunch recipes using dried whole egg solids (stabilized)

Baked Scrambled Eggs

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1960: “Colorful Cranberries for School Lunch Programs”

Cranberry Betty

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30 Comments Add yours

  1. foodologics says:

    An interesting read indeed!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Phil Wayne says:

    Fascinating! Thanks for sharing!


    1. Sarah B says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting to see how school food has changed over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I will definitely try one of these as soon as the school reopenπŸ˜…


    1. Sarah B says:

      Ooh I hope you do! Did you see the Cheeseburger Sandwich? haha

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wait…cheeseburger sandwich !!
        Just finishedπŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹………
        Sending hugs to uπŸ€—πŸ€—πŸ€—


      2. You know I too have started my own website😊😊

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I LOVE this post, and the first one I read about school lunches! Really great. ~I did have to read your cheeseburger sandwich recipe about three times, kept looking for the “burger” (!) My grandmother ran a boarding house in a university town circa 1930; I have her cookbook and love to read (and try) her menus. Overall, what, if any, main changes did you notice between ’16 and ’60?


    1. Sarah B says:

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it! It also took me a minute to see the burger-less cheeseburger sandwich. What’s your favorite recipe from your grandmother’s cookbook? What a fun snapshot of the past and your family’s lives!

      I would say the biggest differences between ’16 and ’60 are processed food and the shift away from communal dishes like fondue. Notice as you go down the years codfish and liver starts to disappear and processed ingredients like soya, dried egg and margarine start to gain in popularity. And there seems to have been a wider variety of dishes before the 1950’s. Just take a look at the 1920’s to see what I mean.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I DID notice the codfish->soy … As I was reading, I smiled thinking about serving up a nice warm plate of those hearty staples to our kids today. If it isn’t half preservatives and wrapped in plastic, it’s not food! πŸ˜‰ Happy to continue this by e-mail,

        Liked by 3 people

  6. Hey Sara
    Waiting for a next post. Please share one soon.
    I’m curious to read one more interesting post and just give a “thumbs up” and comment on it.
    But wait what can be the next post πŸ€”πŸ€”
    Let me think before you post it right😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarah B says:

      I’ve got a couple in mind! The older ones take a bit more time to research and put together but hopefully you won’t have to wait too long. πŸ™‚


      1. πŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒπŸ˜ƒ


      2. Sara till then will you please check out my site too .
        Here is the link


  7. Luanne says:

    I do not even know what Graham bread is!


    1. Sarah B says:

      I had to look this up too! Simply put, it’s a type of bread made with graham flour.

      In the Victorian era, however, graham flour was actually coarsely-ground unsifted whole wheat flour that was milled at home. The bread was ideally made without any chemical additives like alum and was often not leavened as thoroughly and contained less yeast. This was considered the ultimate “health bread” at the time.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Luanne says:

        Ew It sounds really tough to chew. Thank you for that!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Aileen Brent says:

    Terrific article, thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Will Arbaugh says:

    Cottage cheese and cabbage on raisin bread sandwich..oh…yum. lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sarah B says:

      This is what happens when you need to make 3 days’ worth of groceries last a week. Or it’s time to clean out the fridge.


  10. avantikapinku says:

    Informative ❀ post.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Philip And Helan says:

    That’s definitely more interesting than what we came looking for. I especially liked Cranberry Betty πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Fokeet says:

    What a neat find! I think I might even try to pull some of these off for homeschool lunch…

    Liked by 1 person

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