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Cafeteria Cuisine: 1943

Cafeteria Cuisine: 1943

May 1943. "Keysville, Virginia. Randolph Henry High School cafeteria. Typical lunch for 15 cents: candied yams, macaroni and cheese, fruit salad, deviled eggs, dessert and milk. Milk is free and children can have as much as they want." Photo by Philip Bonn for the Office of War Information. View full size.


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My eyes immediately went to the Flying Eagle and Walking liberty. Some nice silver there!

Cafeteria Food

My Junior High and High School had excellent lunches, "real" food and plenty of healthy choices even if you just wanted a sandwich, you could get a P & B. Maybe it was the cooks we had? By the time my kids were in Jr & High School the food was slop just like today. Darn I packed a lot of lunches.

No meat

Another incredible photo that is worth more than a thousand words! I'll bet they rarely got meat for school lunch, in 1943. Meat was heavily rationed. The items shown here are some of those that Americans had access to, during the war. We didn't go hungry, but did have to become more creative. Jello was used extensively. I think that's fruit in the jello in that lettuce leaf, but there are other possibilities. My dad remembers having to eat green jello with nothing but cabbage in it, that his aunt would bring home from her job at a college cafeteria. The makers of Jello even suggested putting leftover bits of vegetables and meats from Sunday dinner into a Jello mold, made with one of their vegetable flavors, for Monday!

Americans were actually very fortunate to have the food we did! The shortages and rationing that our allies had to live with was much, much more restrictive, and went on not only during the war, but for several years after it, too!

I'm younger, but --

Things didn't change much by by the 60's. I remember paying for lunch ahead of time and getting tickets that were turned in to the school secretary who doubled as cashier. Meals were a quarter, milk was a nickel by that time. If I saw the menu for the week in time and saw something I didn't like, my mom would fix my lunch. This routine pretty much lasted through high school except for the cost increases. Some of the food was pretty gruesome, but I've never tasted anything to compare with the peanut butter/honey/corn syrup sandwiches and Alabama biscuits we got. You'd think you had died and gone to Heaven when you ate that. The spaghetti was good too.

The records in the photo are probably a mixture of classical music, square dance music, audio for some slide projector or filmstrip lessons. Remember those? Teacher's Pet got to turn the knob on the projector when the commentator on the record said to or there was a beep. The cafeterias in our schools doubled (and still do in the elementaries) as gyms and event centers.

Missing meat

It went to the boys in uniform.

Phonograph Records?

The rack full of phonograph records seen in the upper left hand corner seems out of place in such a setting--did they have music while they dined? Perhaps the cafeteria doubles as a place for sock hops and dances at other times, like the later "cafetoriums"?

Today's Currency...

I wonder what would happen today if I walked into a fast food restaurant and handed the high school age order taker a 50 cent piece. Would they even know what it was. It has been a long time since I have seen one.

No Fine Dining

From 1955 to sometime in the early 60's I remember paying a quarter for a school lunch. Milk was 2 or 3 cents, maybe it was only if you wanted an extra one, I don't remember. But here's the caveat - most of the food was really, really, lousy. The occasional chocolate milk, ice cream, chili and cinnamon rolls were the the only things we liked. You couldn't get an ice cream unless you ate ALL the rest of the slop they put on your tray. The ballon armed cafeteria ladies would cook and steam the daylights out of any flavor left in the government surplus commodity meat and veggies on the menu. Every Friday was limp fish sticks to appease the Catholics. Wow, I was always thankful when my mom would make me a meal to take to school in my Zorro lunchbox.

The Ring

Going steady with a senior?

Where's the Beef

Entirely too healthy for my taste. In my day the school fed us nice greasy sloppy joes every day. Or at least it seemed like every day.

$0.15 = $2.07

The inflation calculator calls $0.15 in 1943 $2.07 today.


The dimes, quarters, and half-dollars are all silver, and that dollar bill is probably a silver certificate.

Two Bits for a Barber....

Looks like she paid for her lunch with a Barber quarter. Traded a shave and a haircut for lunch and some change. Of course, it might be a Barber half, kinda hard to tell.

[It's a half; compare to the size of the Liberty Walking half on the dollar bill in the tray and that to the Standing Liberty quarter (flying eagle up) in the left slot. -tterrace]

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