Noe Valley Voice December-January 2005

Noe Valley Kids Voice

By Laura McCloskey

School Lunches Then and Now

Seventy years ago, Noe Valley kids ate school lunches just like they do now. But back then, the lunches cost less and were oftentimes made by the kids' moms.

Longtime Douglass Street resident and historian Paul Kantus, 79, recalls his time as a student in Noe Valley. When Mr. Kantus attended Alvarado Elementary School in the 1930s, he often went home for lunch because he lived so close by. "My mom would cook up something warm," he says. "Sometimes I did bring a lunch in a brown sack. At Alvarado, we would eat lunch on benches along the lower playground." About half of his fellow students brought their lunch from home in a brown paper sack.

At James Lick School in 1939­40, Kantus recalls buying hamburgers and sandwiches (and ice cream) for five cents. The kids who didn't bring a bag lunch would race to the cafeteria after morning classes. "There were about 600 kids in the school, and we would make a mad dash to the cafeteria. I'd take my books with me, rather than stopping by my locker, since I didn't want to wait in a long line."

Students could purchase meals from the teachers' side of the cafeteria too, for 15 cents. Those meals were hot plates with a main dish and a vegetable. "I especially remember the tamale pie, which they cut in squares. That was good," says Kantus.

Later at Mission High School, the girls ate in the cafeteria, while the boys ate outside at the "Beanery," remembers Kantus. "At the Beanery, we could get burgers for five cents."

Today, school lunches cost more than a nickel. In the city's public schools, lunch costs $1.75 at elementary schools and $2 at middle and high schools. Schools provide hot meals like salisbury steak and chili with beans. On some days, they still serve a cheeseburger. In 2003, junk food-- soda and potato chips--was outlawed in school cafeterias and vending machines. Overall, schools are trying to make the lunches they serve healthier, while keeping the prices down.

But one thing hasn't changed: there are still students in Noe who bring their lunch to school in a brown paper sack.


We surveyed a number of Noe Valley restaurants to find out what they thought would be the ultimate school lunch for kids. Here are their recommendations.

1599 Sanchez Street

Recipe: The chef at Alice's Restaurant recommends chow mein and sweet and sour pork for a school lunch. Alice's chow mein includes egg noodles, chicken, and vegetables sautéed in soy sauce. The sweet and sour pork has tomato, pineapple, carrots, pork, and sweet and sour sauce.

737 Diamond Street

Recipe: Chef Vincenzo Cucco at Ristorante Bacco recommends pappardelle bolognese for a school lunch. This dish includes homemade fettuccine pasta with a sauce made from ground beef, pork, and veal, plus onion, celery, carrot, and tomatoes.

4138 24th Street

Recipe: Barney's manager, Sandy, says a lunch of breaded chicken strips would be the kids' favorite. The plate includes fried chicken strips, french fries, and your choice of thousand island, BBQ, ranch, or ketchup dipping sauce. Sandy recommends some lemonade to top it all off.

3945 24th Street

Recipe: At Fresca, the chefs recommend a Peruvian favorite called salchipapa. The dish is chopped hot dogs and french fries mixed together. They also recommend a burrito made with rice, beans, cheese, and a flour tortilla.

4007 24th Street

Recipe: Rami, of the Noe Valley Deli on 24th Street, says a turkey sandwich makes a good school lunch. You'll need a soft roll, fresh sliced turkey, cheese, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato.

751 Diamond Street

Recipe: Bruce Ponte, the owner of Cafe Ponte, recommends a piece of strawberry rhubarb crumble for lunch. He says it's healthy and "veggie-like." The dish is made with whole-grain granola, sugar, and cooked rhubarb. Serve it warm like pie.

What Is Your Favorite School Lunch?

Some first-grade students at Alvarado Elementary School in Noe Valley want to share their idea of the perfect school lunch.

Six-year-old Carolina Rios says her favorite lunch would be clam chowder. She recommends mixing broccoli and a can of clam chowder together to make a "delicious meal."

Jake Lisser, also 6, says his favorite school lunch is a cheese roll-up. The ingredients are one flour tortilla (large) and one slice of cheddar or other cheese. Lay the tortilla on a damp paper towel. Cover the center of the tortilla with cheese. Microwave the tortilla and cheese on the paper towel for 20 to 25 seconds. Roll the tortilla up like a sleeping bag. Let it cook for 5 minutes, wrap it up and put it in your lunchbox.

Six-year-old Natalie Simrock wrote in Spanish that her favorite school lunch is "galletas saladas de arroz, pasta con queso, piña dulce, jamon, jugo de uvas," which in English means rice cakes, pasta with cheese, pineapple, ham, and grape juice.

December's School Menu

Here is the San Francisco School District's official menu for the last week before vacation starts in December. Each meal also has fresh or chilled fruit. Milk is available, too.

Monday, Dec. 12: Roast turkey with mashed potatoes and gravy, whole wheat bread

Tuesday, Dec. 13: Pepperoni pizza, baby carrots with ranch dressing

Wednesday, Dec. 14: Hamburger on a bun, corn on the cob

Thursday, Dec. 15: Chicken chow mein with mixed vegetables

Friday, Dec. 16: Wheat grilled turkey/ham and cheese sandwich, baby carrots with ranch dressing

TSpecial Thanks T

Paul Kantus, founder of the Noe Valley Archives; the Noe Valley restaurants who responded to our survey; and to Alvarado's first-grade teachers and students, especially Rosalie Simrock.