Anoka County History: Hot lunch program in the schools

The hot lunch program in District 11 schools actually predates the school district itself.

The first hot lunch was served at Lincoln Elementary School in Anoka by Mrs. Mabel Erickson on Dec. 10, 1949.

It was about eight years later that 52 different school districts throughout the county were consolidated into Anoka-Hennepin District 11.

The superintendent of schools was Morris Bye when the hot lunch experiment began.

He suggested to Mrs. Erickson that she anticipate about 50 children who would chose to buy lunch.
At the time, students had a full hour lunch break and could walk home for lunch, buy lunch at a café in town, or bring a brown bag lunch to eat at school.

Exact numbers were not recorded, but a good deal more than 50 lunches were served that first day, with more students participating each day following.

By the end of the first week, Mrs. Erickson was serving over 100 lunches each day.

She approached the principal, Mr. George Petty, to ask if she could recruit several sixth-grade girls to help her because the cooking and serving was too much for her to deal with alone.

By Christmas time, a helper was hired.

Hot lunch consisted of a well-balanced nutritious meal including a minimum of two ounces of protein, a vegetable serving, a serving of fruit and milk.

The most popular menu items were sloppy joes, lasagna, or chicken with mashed potatoes.

The cost was 20 cents, and children were responsible to pay with correct change each day.

Remembering lunch money was character building.

It was often the child’s first experience with money, and included important lessons about responsibility, organization, and economic decision making.

If a student forgot his money, lost it, or chose to save it for some other purchase, he was allowed to go hungry.

Mabel Erickson continued her career with the school lunch program for 30 years retiring in 1980.

She had become the cook/manager at Anoka High School, where she and her crew often served 1,500 meals per day.

Today, schools throughout the district serve over 30,000 lunches daily and almost 8,500 breakfasts, providing 284 jobs in our community.

A full hour for lunch is no longer possible with today’s crowded curriculum.

Hot lunch allows for more efficient use of the school day.

It helps students to stay focused and allows them social time to chat with friends.

It also ensures that students from low income families are fed two nutritious meals per day, since breakfast was added in the mid 1980’s.

The cost for a school lunch today is $2.25 and breakfast costs $1.35. (Elementary students pay $2.10 and $1.35: Adults pay $3.50 and $2.25.)

About half of the funding for the program comes from the federal government.

Charge accounts allow students to forgo the responsibility of lunch money, and allow parents the convenience of a monthly bill.

School lunch has a unique attribute among federal programs. It always reaches its target population.
It is one benefit that cannot be traded for liquor or drugs like food stamps.

It cannot be stockpiled or sold, or stolen by a schoolyard bully.

School lunch makes a tremendous difference in the lives of our children.

Editor’s note: Maria King volunteers for the Anoka County Historical Society.

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