How to Serve Your Kids A Hot Lunch Every Day

Before I had kids, I skipped a lot of meals. Yeah, I know that ALL THE EXPERTS talk about how bad that kind of thing is, but I just didn’t feel like eating breakfast and lunch. But then I had kids. And you know what? APPARENTLY, KIDS NEED TO EAT LUNCH EVERY DAY. And the best way to get kids through all their schoolwork, and all the way until dinner without complete meltdowns is — an old-fashioned hot lunch! But how (oh, how) do you solve the problem of feeding your children a hot lunch Monday through Friday?

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Enter vintage lunch plans! I have found several solutions in my vintage books about how to tackle the lunch problem. Plus, I will add some of my own experience feeding 8 kids a hot lunch in the middle of a school day.

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Vintage Solutions for Kids’ Lunches

Most vintage solutions for menu planning fall into one of two kinds:

  1. Actual menus already made for you
  2. A formula for creating your own menu

I actually use both. I have several different vintage cookbooks. All of them include at least a week of sample menus or ideas for menus for particular circumstances or times of the year. Some of them even have menus for all the meals for every day of the year. I have enough of these to actually use one a year for nearly a decade without repeating. Providing a whole year’s worth of meal planning, and usually with grocery lists, was quite the thing in the 1940s.

The other method (one of my favorites!) is to use a formula. The book either lists the dishes you choose for each meal, and then you just plug in your favorites, or the book provides a chart, and you do the same thing.

Vintage Lunch Menus Already Made For You

Without a doubt, the easiest way is to follow a simple plan that has the menus already made up.

If you are looking for a full year of menus — 3 meals a day, 7 days a week, plus special occasion menus — Meta Given’s Modern Family Cookbook and Encyclopedia of Cookery are the best. You have to get the 1947/1948 editions, because the editions published in the 1950s only have a week of menus for each month. In particular, the Modern Family Cookbook menus include a list of ingredients in each dish, so that you can make your grocery list or grocery order easily.

Another option for a full year of menus and grocery lists is the Alice Bradley Menu-Cook-Book. This one divides grocery lists into weekly orders with quantities, plus daily orders of perishables, with quantities. All the recipes and quantities are for 4, so I have to triple everything for my family, but otherwise, I appreciate the recipes and groceries for the day appearing on the same page as the menu.

When it comes to menu plans for my kids, I often use and reuse the one-week plans from The Better Homes & Gardens Baby Book. They are especially good for planning nursery meals, which I serve to my 2 youngest. They follow a basic formula, so I will talk more about them in the next section.

Easy Plug-&-Play Vintage Lunch Menu Formulas

In this method, a basic pattern is followed and after plugging in your favorite dishes in each category, you have a complete menu. In some ways, this is usually easier for a modern housewife, because some husbands and children do NOT want broiled kidneys or cauliflower cheese for lunch! Sometimes, you need familiarity more than variety, particularly if you are trying to shift your family’s eating habits toward these sorts of old-fashioned menus.

The most popular lunch formula is the one popularized by Campbell’s Soup Company in numerous ads: soup, sandwich, milk, dessert. This formula actually works great if you are just getting started with hot lunches — this is the method I started with! Plus, it is super simple for working and homeschooling: dump canned chicken or fish, frozen veggies, and some Swanson’s broth. Add noodles, rice, couscous, or whatever. Make it taste Mediterranean with cans of V-8 juice and Italian seasoning. The sandwiches can be as simple as bread-and-butter, especially for Clam Chowder or Beef Stew. And dessert is an excellent way to bribe your kids into eating something good for them — I like to serve fruit and milk pudding or a fruit gelatin, and they have to finish the soup first. Here’s one example of the Campbell’s ads, (which you can often get on eBay!):

Another lunch formula is hot main dish, accompanying vegetable (sometimes in the main dish), side salad, bread & butter, and milk-based or fruit dessert. This is a lot like the standard hot school lunch, so I use it when I am making macaroni and cheese or fish cakes and spaghetti.

All About the Formula Method

The formula method was popularized in the vintage Better Homes and Gardens cookbooks, which had the charts made up for you, so you could substitute easily. It became a favorite in several of the vintage housekeeping books, which provided charts that you could fill in yourself.

Betty Crocker cookbooks also provided the formulas for meal planning, and provided ideas to show you how to combine the recipes into the formula in a balanced way. I also have an example of this here on Mid-Century Modern Mommy.

An Easy Plan to Solve Your Lunch Problems

I have used the formula method in the past, and I still fall back on it at times. However, my current method is to use the monthly menus from the Parents Magazine Cookbook. Here is an example for January:

January vintage lunch menu calendar, with lunches for Monday through Friday, beginning with chicken-noodle soup, toasted cheese sandwiches, and sponge cake; then chickenburgers, cranberry sauce, and banana pudding; and continuing all the way to finger vegetables, spaghetti with meat sauce, and choice of fresh fruit. Available in text-only at hathitrust on page 293 of the Parents' Magazine Family Cookbook. Sample vintage menus for Mid-Century Modern Mommy, showing hot lunches to be made for homeschool students in January.
Lunch Menus

I make the majority of these menus using food from my pantry, and I will substitute freely if I don’t have a particular ingredient or dish. I substituted fish cakes and spaghetti for creamed tuna and peas on toast in the first weeks, because I don’t have tuna often.

Each morning, Monday through Saturday, I have an alarm that goes off at 10:30. I have usually already completed my vintage cleaning routine, because since I do it every day, it doesn’t take to long each day. But, I put meals on time ahead of finishing my routine, since I know that I will get to it the next day.

So, at 10:30, I head to the kitchen and start the lunch. I make the dessert first, since pudding and gelatin need to chill, and cookies need to bake. At 11, I start the main dish and the sides. If no hot bread or sandwich is specified, I serve bread and butter. Everyone gets glasses of milk.

I set the table and serve lunch at noon. Everyone stops doing schoolwork at noon, and washes up. After eating, the elementary school students go outside for the rest of the hour. The high schoolers work on elective studies. And I clear the table, wash the dishes, and then put the little ones down for naps. Everyone does reading — content subjects — after lunch until 3.

Image from a vintage ad of a bowl of soup, sandwich, and grapes. With purple and teal color blocks and text overlay that says Vintage Lunches Make It Easy! Serve your kids a hot lunch every day. Pin by Mid-Century Modern Mommy.
Don’t forget to pin, so you can find this article later!

Planning Your Lunches

Of course, I included charts like the ones in my vintage housekeeping books in my planner pages, available in the shop. And, of course, I’d love to hear from you, too! How do you make sure everyone gets a hot lunch?

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4 thoughts on “How to Serve Your Kids A Hot Lunch Every Day”

  1. I love how the old cookbooks already had menu planning ideas built in. I have a 1943 cookbook that has menus and they have been a great time saver. Instant ideas. I do a hot lunch for me and my dad each day, I always try to do as much prep the night before as possible, saves me time the next day.

    Great post! Jennie from theuglydame.blogspot.com

  2. Meggan Bickerstaff

    This post was so helpful! We are expecting our 10th child any day now, and I’m hoping to make Hot Lunches a priority for us when I get back into the swing of things! (Right now we are just Surviving). I’m planning to follow your tip about the Formula Method, using soup and sandwiches as my template. I also love the idea of serving dessert with lunch, and I know my children will love it! I’m going to start with cookies or puddings….Do you make your puddings from scratch? Should I google “milk based pudding” to get recipe ideas?

    I also love the idea of feeding the Nursery Children their meal separately, before everyone else. But that one might take some time & thought to actually implement for us…. It would be a big change in habits/schedules. But I’m imagining sitting down to a meal without feeding 1-2 other people at the same time, and it sounds heavenly!

    Blessings and Thanks, Meggan

    1. Congratulations on your 10th! I do make puddings from scratch . . . but I also think that keeping Jello instant pudding and a box of Nilla wafers on hand, especially while you are postpartum, will make things easier. Then you can ask your older kids to make it. Later, you can perfect your cooked puddings. I will post a pudding recipe this week, and come back here to link it.

      The way I started doing nursery meals was to set up a kitchen table little kid feeding area and feed them while I am cooking. I also use a lot of little leftovers. I rarely have enough leftovers to make a meal. So leftover mashed potatoes get mixed with a few spoonfuls of gravy and a canned vegetable or a leftover vegetable to make a creamy soup. If I don’t have leftover meat, I scramble, poach, or boil an egg for supper. I make hot cereal every morning for the littles, and they have toast and fruit also. I focus heavily on milk, and not so much on protein, but I also make sure that they have some bone broth in soup or gravy and an egg every day. I have a food chopper, and I use it to chop leftover meat and vegetables for nursery meals.

      And clearly this is also turning into a post, so I will try to write a whole post on this very soon! Congratulations again! I look forward to hearing more about your little one!

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