© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

August 29: National School Lunch Act

Ways To Subscribe

School cafeterias have become legendary, both for good and for bad. The lunches can be legendarily good. For instance, what could be better than pizza or spaghetti?

On the other hand, what could be worse than hot dogs, mac-and-cheese, or chicken nuggets that were cooked several hours prior to lunchtime? Yet, there is always a choice – eat the cafeteria food or pack your own lunch.

It was not always that way. In the distant past, every student brought a lunch box or brown bag from home with maybe a “sandwich, an apple, and a bottle of milk,” or leftovers, or maybe even pancakes.

Hastily eating a cold, unappetizing lunch five days a week could weaken the constitution of even the strongest child over the years.

So, in 1915, North Dakota experienced a movement to bring “hot lunch” to country schools, whereby parents contributed food that the teacher would heat on a kerosene burner or wood-stove.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, the federal government began providing hot lunches through the Works Progress Administration (WPA), providing money to hire cooks. The Federal Surplus Commodities Corporation distributed flour, corn meal, salt pork, powdered milk, dried beans, and fresh apples [and] potatoes.”

Not all North Dakota schools participated in these federal programs, yet the number of districts grew during World War II as the State Welfare Board funneled funds to disadvantaged families in various counties.

Concerns had arisen over poor nutrition during the Depression and war years, resulting in many American men to be rejected for World War II military service because of diet-related problems.

Therefore, Congress passed the National School Lunch Act, and President Truman signed the bill into law on June 4, 1946, providing funds for food, lunchroom equipment, and wages for cooks and lunch-ladies.

On this date, in 1946, the Hope Pioneer newspaper reported that the state officially joined the national lunch program, matching federal funds, dollar-for-dollar.

Soon thereafter, in January, 1947, the local school in Hope began its new hot lunch program. The school anticipated receiving about 300 bushels of potatoes and several cases of pineapple sauce, green string beans, and tomatoes.

So it was that school-lunches became an institution, with legends aplenty concerning tater-tots or maybe French-fries — with or without the ketchup.

Dakota Datebook written by Steve Hoffbeck, Retired MSUM History Professor


  • “State Signs School Lunch Pact for 1946-47 Recently,” Hope [ND] Pioneer, August 29, 1946, p. 1.
  • “School Lunch Bill Signed By Truman,” Boston Globe, June 4, 1946, p. 4; “Truman Puts OK On School Lunch,” St. Cloud [MN] Times, June 4, 1946, p. 1.
  • “Steele County School News,” Hope Pioneer, March 9, 1916, p. 1.
  • “Should Go All the Way,” Bismarck Tribune, October 11, 1940, p. 4.
  • “Welfare Board To Aid WPA Projects,” Bismarck Tribune, December 1, 1937, p. 4.
  • Edward J. Banttari, “Driscoll School Principal Lauds Hot Lunch Program,” Bismarck Tribune, May 14, 1942, p. 8.
  • “Farm-to-School Program Has Long History of Promoting Healthy Eating,” Fargo Forum, September 20, 2010, p. A3.
  • “School Lunch Program Began January 6th,” Hope Pioneer, January 16, 1947, p. 4.
  • “Commodities Furnished; Millie Germundson as Cook,” Hope Pioneer, September 9, 1948, p. 1; “Local Happenings,” Hope Pioneer, October 6, 1949, p. 5; “Hope Hi-Lites,” Hope Pioneer, October 23, 1947, p. 4.
  • Mrs. Doris McCullough, 1916-1987, Ancestry.com Find a Grave Index; Mrs. Millie Germundson, 1904-1982, Ancestry.com Find a Grave Index, accessed on July 22, 2023.

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Related Content