At 11:25 a.m. with the ring of a bell, the entire high school student body divided itself into three distinct groups. Those who brought their lunch, those who left campus and those who ate in the cafeteria.
At least, this was the information I received as a junior high student.
The most intriguing group to me was the pack of young adults I’d heard about who allegedly roamed the town freely, grazing at every restaurant in town.
I’d also heard that the kids in the upper grades left campus and would eat hamburgers and french fries every single day, if that’s what they wanted.
Held hostage by sack lunches or cafeteria food from first through ninth grade, the possibility of both leaving campus for lunch and devouring prohibited menu items provided a warm feeling.
In first grade, mom bought me a Banana Splits lunchbox. It wasn’t a lunchbox that was always filled with banana splits (although that is a great idea); it was a lunchbox that had the characters from the 1960s Saturday morning TV show, The Banana Splits on it.
My mother did a remarkable job of making lunches that I would eat. Baloney sandwiches with Miracle Whip, Fritos, and a homemade chocolate pie were the envy of the kids around me. These poor children always seemed to have tuna, ham, or pimento loaf sandwiches. If you’ve never had pimento loaf, stop reading this and say a prayer of thanks.
Somewhere around third grade I decided that I was too big for lunches from home. I instigated a discussion with my parents on why a budget allocation of 10-cents a day should be earmarked for me to eat in the cafeteria. After a fairly severe, in-depth inquisition regarding whether I would actually eat what was served each day, I won. My mom agreed to stop making lunches and buying mine.
I had looked at the other kids’ lunchroom trays, and was convinced that everything they were given looked quite tasty. Part of this had to do with the fact that items such as pizza, sloppy Joe’s, peanut butter bars, tater tots, and those huge yeast rolls, did not appear in my Banana Splits lunch box.
To make sure I was going to eat in the cafeteria, my mom held on to my lunchbox for a few months before she gave it to one of my cousins. That’s how it works when you’re the oldest grandchild. You never get to keep any of your stuff. It all goes to younger cousins.
That first day in the lunch line seemed to be what it would be like if you were the kid who just moved into the area and is new in school. The lunchroom kids knew I wasn’t one of them. They looked at me with one eye as they kept the other one on their peanut butter bar and tater tots.
After a few rotations of unidentifiable brown giblets on a toasted piece of bread, and taquitos that could be used as weapons, I was accepted. That’s what happens when you also make jokes about the food.
But a funny thing happened. I began to like lunchroom food. I knew not everything was perfect, but if you didn’t like something you could always trade it to someone else for something you wanted but they didn’t.
I learned from an older kid that this was also a form of currency used in prisons. He may or may not have learned this from a close relative.
Continuing to eat in the lunchroom through ninth grade, my classmates and I were ready to head to the promised land. High School. Where we would leave campus in cars and eat whatever we wanted, wherever we wanted.
This lasted through the first week of tenth grade, when I depleted most of my summer lawn mowing savings by purchasing cheeseburger baskets, chicken-fried steak sandwiches and copious amounts of ice cream.
Soon after, I found myself back in the lunchroom with a morning quarter in my pocket (prices went up).
I was welcomed back by those who had stuck to their routine. They asked why I’d come back. I said I missed the pizza.
Later, after securing gainful employment in nearby businesses, I was able to leave campus each day and buy lunch. But the expense and hassle of leaving campus gave me perspective on how much money you can blow through when you get what you want, rather than what you need.
Today, eating out is once again a treat, rather than the norm. We love going to restaurants where they make homemade rolls.
Which is why running across a recipe on Allrecipes.com for school lunchroom cafeteria rolls caught my eye. The article not only had a recipe that purported to make these just like you remember, it had a total of 20 recipes for lunchroom food. Everything from sloppy joes, to pizza, to peanut butter bars, to tater tots, and more.
I’ve included the recipe for the rolls, but you can see all 20 recipes at Allrecipes.com. Search for 20 School Cafeteria Recipes.
Enjoy. Banana Splits lunchbox not included.