Six School Food Lessons From My Great-Grandparents

June 15, 2010 | Written By:

By Mark Bishop, HSC Deputy Director


“Every child has a right to be as healthy as present knowledge can make him – Proper feeding is one of the chief factors in health”

Diet of the School Child

Sometimes looking to the past can help ground our work of today. That's why I was so thrilled when I found my copy of Diet for the School Child printed in… get this… 1919. It was published by the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Education — the predecessor to the current Department of Education. The artwork in this piece is comically beautiful, and the language is frequently tortured, but all in all, there is a consistent truth that comes out: students need healthy meals to succeed. 

The introduction is short and to the point. It sets the tone quite well.

The child is the adult of to-morrow. The kind of food a child has to-day determines to a considerable extent the fitness of the future citizen. Those who direct the feeding of the child have a responsibility which can not be overlooked. Good food habits should start to-day. To-morrow may be too late.

Healthy food advice from Diet for the School Child 

But here's what struck me: how similar the challenges of feeding our kids today are to the challenges of 90+ years ago. It's true that there were no Lunchables, HFCS hadn't been invented yet, and fast food?! Forget about it. But the lessons are strikingly similar. Here are what I see as the major lessons from the Diet for the School Child.

1) It's hard to get kids to eat their veggies.  

Children often have to be taught to like things which are good for them.

So true. And while I don't think I'd phrase it this way, their response isn't much different than what we say — “give but one new food at a time, and repeat it regularly until the child learns to like it.” Ouch. 

2) It can get expensive to eat healthy. The Diet suggests figuring out per portion costs to determine the most cost-effective meal. And when fresh apples are “5 cents a pound” you have to watch every penny.

3) Kids love sweets, and we must limit sugar consumption.

There is great danger of children getting too much sugar and spoiling the appetite and the digestion… Whatever sweets are given should be at the end of a meal; never between meals or at the beginning of a meal. They spoil the appetite for other necessary food.

4) A full lunch period is important. 

Plenty of time should be allowed for meals – Insist on thorough chewing so that the stomach may not be overtaxed.

Students need time to eat their lunch at school

5) Wash your hands!

Dirt is dangerous – Children should have clean hands and faces while eating; they should sit down to a clean table and eat in a orderly manner. Flies should not be allowed to alight on the food either before or during meal time.

6) Veggies veggies veggies…

Children can not be healthy and strong unless they have plenty of vegetables every day. Fresh vegetables are to be preferred, but when these are unobtainable, dried or canned vegetables should be given. Fruits are necessary and should be given every day if possible.


It's a fascinating booklet, and I'll post images and comments from it in the next few weeks. But I'll leave my favorite line for last:

Children should not have cooked fat except bacon.

Ahhh, the good old days.

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