School Lunch Hero Day is held annually on the first Friday in May in honor of each person responsible for providing lunches (and food) to millions of children across America. This year, it will take place on May 5. If you looked forward to tasty food and a full belly in school, you know exactly whom to thank for this. These include school nutrition professionals and even those who serve the food in cafeterias. Each person responsible for making sure good food is handed out to students is a hero, and this day was specially designed to show them some love.
History of School Lunch Hero Day
We can trace the school lunch tradition to the eighteenth century. American-born Count Rumford fled to Germany during the Revolutionary War. He would feed poor children who worked part-time in exchange for schooling and food. He served them barley, potatoes, sour beer, and other inexpensive food and is likely one of the earliest examples of a soup kitchen
The idea of feeding children for free in schools did not gain much popularity in America during this period; however, the next century saw immigrants flood America’s shores. Many of them could not afford even the basic amenities, including food. An estimated 12% of school-age children in New York City were homeless in the 1870s, and those who lived in homes were not better off. Child labor laws dictated that children be off the streets, and many more hungry kids flooded schools.
This would become a national issue. Thinkers and reformers brainstormed ways to help these children. An anonymous article in The School Journal, published in 1903, states that “healthy school lunches were a chance to improve the physical vigor of the urban population.” Small-scale programs in cities like Boston and Philadelphia showed that such programs could indeed have long-term benefits. Partnerships were formed between social workers, charitable institutions, and schools with this thought. School lunches were born.
The National School Lunch Act was approved in 1946, and school lunches became the law. Today, school lunches range from the traditional to the exotic, offering dynamic options to suit a range of palettes, tastes, and cultures.
Children’s author and illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka had a chance encounter with his lunch lady, Jean, years after graduating from school. He was surprised to see she still remembered him. He used this as the inspiration for his next book series, Lunch Lady, about a lunch lady and her sidekick who fight crime. When these graphic novels were published, Krosoczka invited Jean to a launch and gave her artworks and paperbacks. He only learned how much this meant to Jean at her wake a few years later, in 2011. His drawings were placed next to her casket. Her widow told Jarrett that while Jean had not received a whole lot of thanks, she loved each kid she ever served. As a result, Krosoczka founded this day in honor of Jean, in partnership with the School Nutrition Association. The first celebration was held on her birthday the very next year.
School Lunch Hero Day timeline
Sociologist Robert Hunter publishes a book called "Poverty"; it describes the conditions working-class people endure in Chicago and New York and provides a push for people to think up ways to remedy this issue.
The Women's Educational and Industrial Union provides hot lunches — beef and barley soup, celery and nut salad, creamed eggs, orange marmalade or jam sandwiches, e.t.c. — to around 5,500 students each day.
This honor goes to Finland; they give all their school kids free meals during the day, and later, other countries follow suit.
The lunch program is updated to current nutritional guidelines; it emphasizes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and protein.
This date marks the day our holiday is first celebrated; it has been observed in the same month ever since.
School Lunch Hero Day FAQs
What is a typical school lunch?
In America, this could be chicken, a whole-grain roll, and salad. Schools outside the U.S. that provide lunches usually give healthy options like soup, rice, and meat.
How do school lunches work?
As per the National School Lunch Program, the government reimburses the school up to a certain amount for every meal they serve. This amount depends on whether the meal is free, reduced-price, or full price.
Do schools make money from lunches?
Schools are reimbursed a certain amount for each meal they make and serve. They do not gain money out of this service and sometimes spend more than the reimbursement amount.
How to Observe School Lunch Hero Day
Thank the ones keeping bellies full
Are your kids benefitting from school lunches? Did you? Take a minute to appreciate the people responsible for this. Make them a card or post about them online.
Make them a school lunch
Know anyone responsible for children's full bellies? Make them a special lunch to show them you see their efforts.
Highlight the importance of school lunches
This day is perfect for examining existing school lunch programs and highlighting their importance to the students and the community. Spreading awareness and spotlighting these programs can help keep them funded for longer.
5 Important Facts About School Lunches Globally
Japan — feeding and teaching social skills
Children don't just eat; they cook, serve, and even clean up after themselves.
Brazil — food is a constitutional right
30% of school lunch food ingredients are locally sourced; food includes local (fresh) foods like frittatas loaded with veggies, paired with hearty rice and beans, and a piece of fruit.
France — four-course lunches
Kids get a salad, meat with veggies, some cheese and bread, and finally, a dessert; children are encouraged to enjoy their meals leisurely.
Kenya — lining up for meals
Most schools provide lunches — which might also include a common dish called ‘githeri,’ which is corn and beans cooked together as a stew — and children line up to eat it in a dining hall or outdoors.
Finland — cafeteria meals
Hot meals hold a variety of options, but a common tradition is a dish called ‘hernekeitto,’ which is pea soup paired with jam-covered pancakes for dessert.
Why School Lunch Hero Day is Important
Lunches are more important than we realize
According to research, regular meals give children a higher chance of success in academics and contribute to children's overall health.
Cafeterias are important too
Often, this is the first place kids congregate on a school day, and it's their first meal of the day too!
Lunch heroes' holistic approach towards kids
Nutrition is of prime importance, of course, but they also care about the overall wellbeing of the kids. Keeping children healthy and happy with delicious food choices is a priority.
School Lunch Hero Day dates