As a hungry Kiwi kid in the fifties and sixties, I loved my school lunches.
Usually white bread with Vegemite or homemade plum jam, with an apple or orange for afters. Morning tea was a piece of homemade cake if we were lucky. As vigorous kids who ran around a lot in our semi-rural primary school paddock and accompanying creek with willow trees, lunch was bolted down quickly so we could run and play.
Chasing games where the girls hid in the girl’s toilets which were forbidden to boys. Or skipping with a huge rope or paddling in the creek catching tadpoles. No water safety gates up there. Sometimes we would let the billy goat which lived next door out so it could butt the boys in the backside when they bent over. Which they willingly did for the applause and squeals of delight.
But Mondays and Fridays were the best. Like sacred or Holy Days so much part of our Catholic school system, they were holy to me because sometimes we could order a school lunch from the shop. There were no carrot or celery sticks, no healthy wraps or pieces of fruit on offer as they weren’t even considered a necessity in those days of plain and wholesome eating of basic home cooking. No, on Mondays we could order a hot meat pie and tomato sauce for a shilling. And for sixpence, we could add a genuine cream bun with real cream and raspberry jam. I would drool as I placed my order with one of the big kids and hand over my money.
By lunchtime, my stomach would be growling with anticipation and the lunches would arrive in a big cardboard box, smelling divine. We would jostle each other to get our white paper bag and go off to eat the hot and savoury steaming delight in the playground, smugly glancing at those poor kids who only had bread and jam.
Fridays were even better. Fish and chips for a shilling. Wrapped in a newspaper in funny little flat packets the tantalising aroma would make our mouths water. We would rip open a little gap in the top and fish out our hot chips glistening with fat and salt.
Chunky pieces of beautifully battered golden fish accompanied the chips. They were delicious. A squirt of tomato sauce created perfection as we dived in. And again we felt vaguely sorry for the kids from big families who never got to buy their lunch. Wrappers were placed in the bin, a swig of water from the drinking fountains and we were off to play.
Looking back these yummy school lunch offerings didn’t happen too often. It was considered a bit of a treat when mum was busy or there was not enough bread for lunches. The nuns never had a tuck shop or canteen at our school. I don’t even think they existed. The order was sent to the local dairy or corner shop and they delivered the pies and buns. Likewise, the fish and chips were rung through to the fish n chip shop and they delivered. A man on a bicycle wobbling with a big cardboard box on the back. Not so many cars around in the fifties.
When I consider the changes school lunches have gone through I consider myself blessed that I only had the meat pies, cream buns and fish n chips occasionally. We had a plain diet at home, as did most families in my neighbourhood as Mums were usually at home and did the cooking while the Dads went off to work. Many Catholic families in those days were very large so buying school lunches were rare.
However a love of fats, sugar and carbohydrates was born, and my sturdy little Kiwi body must have held on to the memory of those yummy and delicious school lunches.
I’ve never been willingly drawn towards healthier options, but do so out of necessity for good health. However, on a chilly grey day when the clouds hang low overhead and the wind is chilly, a steaming hot pie with molten hot gristle free meat and gravy filling adorned with tomato sauce and encased in golden pastry makes my fat cell memory sing for joy.
Likewise with fish and chips, but they tend to give me indigestion. Do you remember buying lunches at school? Was it even a ‘thing’ in your day?