Saturday, 4 April 2015

Canteen/Tuckshop Food Then and Now





As a parent of primary school children I need to report that in the decades between when I was at primary school in the 70s, and now, one thing hasn’t changed at all - canteen food is still the holy grail.

My kids get a lunch order from the canteen on the last day of term only. Really I’m just making sure the canteen owner doesn’t run out of silver. I’m very kind like that. Someone needs to put the silver coins back into the economy. And it takes a lot of silver coins to pay for a lunch order these days!

Apart from the one lunch order per term my kids are allowed to use their pocket money for snacks at the canteen, if they want to. I’m not crazy about it, but it’s their choice, and besides, I don’t really pay them much anyway, compared to canteen prices.

What is it about canteen/tuckshop food that is so appealing decade after decade?  I think it’s a combination of
a) access to food/drink you don’t have every day and
b) a child’s first experience of independent financial activity.

To back up my theory I recently surveyed a group of two children, and came up with some interesting results.

Apparently it is all about visiting the pointy end of the food pyramid. When asked what is so appealing about buying food from the canteen, one respondent said “It’s so we can have junk food.” The second respondent appeared to confirm this, saying “Well Mum, they have apples there, but nobody buys them.”

Further questioned about the concept of being able to take the responsibility of buying something independently without a parent present, my respondents shrugged their shoulders. “Well, maybe it’s good to buy it yourself because nobody can tell you to buy an apple instead of chips.” The second respondent nodded “Yeah”.

Maybe they are right. If I asked you what comes to mind first when you think of canteen food from your own school days, what would it be? For me, there is no doubt:

The pie.

I have never ever tasted a pie as good as our school pies in primary school. Every winter there was nothing more intoxicating than the smell of those pies from the canteen. And for the lucky recipients at lunchtime, they lived up to their promise. I was allowed to have one pie very winter, and it was such an event. Twenty two cents would be wrapped in a scrap of paper with the order scribbled on it, and at lunch time that pie would arrive in a crisp white and green paper bag. Ambrosia.

The other item I coveted from the canteen was a coffee bun. It was a finger bun with pink icing, and lashings of butter. They were 12 cents. I don’t know why they were called coffee buns at our canteen, and I’ve never hear them referred to as anything but finger buns since then, but they were so good.

I also remember what my teachers ordered for themselves every day. Mrs P always ate a chocolate Paddle Pop after lunch. She carefully removed the wrapper and laid it flat on her palm to catch the drips. I tried that myself but it was fairly tedious. And Mrs M would buy a five cent packet of peanuts every day and eat them on playground duty. Round and round the playground she would stalk, barking reprimands at misbehaving students, all the while pecking at that bag of peanuts. Probably not something that would happen today, I’d wager.

Do you have fond memories of canteen/tuckshop food? What was your favourite?

And one more thing. Can anyone explain why I can remember the exact prices of canteen items from primary school when I can’t even remember what I had for breakfast this morning?



photo credit: My Happy Pie Technique via photopin (license)

16 comments:

  1. Why does my comment keep getting eaten?

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  2. As I tried to say before I rudely interrupted myself, my special memories are of the days Mum was on tuck shop duty. celebrity for a day.
    And I'm v impressed by your representative sample. I believe them. You should take up market surveying. Perhaps a little cold calling on the side?

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    1. Hey Wendy, I was flipping through some of my old newspaper cuttings and I saw (on the back of one) the weekly roster for tuckshop duty in all of our local school. The group of surnames for each day was prefixed by Mesdames.
      And yes, thanks for the feedback about my market survey. It's always good to conduct thorough research before one files a post. No cold-calling though. I'll just stick to my captive sample group.

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  3. I've never heard of a tuck shop: cool name for a canteen! When I was young, my friends and I would walk up to the little neighborhood store that was across the highway. We'd bring our coin change and buy candy that normally ranged from ten to twenty cents, some of the candy cost pennies. Back then they had candy cigarettes! Do you remember those? they were little candy sticks that were white with red dye at the end to mimic the burning end of a cigarette and they came in a small box. Your post is taking me back 40+ years! Thanks for the trip down memory lane!! Happy A-Zing...
    Michele at Angels Bark

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    1. Thanks Michele. The candy - that is coming later on in the A-Z challenge!

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  4. Our canteen and tuck shop were in separate rooms. No candy allowed in the canteen; good old-fashioned splodge-and-veg doled out by 'dinner ladies'. I trained myself to like semolina/tapioca; since nobody else did, I was then guaranteed to have second helpings. 'Frog spawn', we called it. The tuck shop was much more glamorous, with its colourful candy-wrappers. Any child getting any candy from there obviously had rich parents. Ah - nostalgia ain't what it used ter be....

    Ros, visiting from GenWestUK

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    1. Thanks Ros. In Australia we didn't have those type of canteens serving proper meals on plates, except in schools with boarding facilities. I always envied that when i saw it on TV but from what you are saying I don't think we missed out on much!

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  5. Ah, school canteen food. As a teacher, I've witnessed many a teary child over a dropped pie (or worse, spag bol). Such a delight to clean up too but I remember canteen time fondly from my own school days.

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    1. There is no way I would ever have loosened my grip long enough on a canteen pie to risk dropping it! Thanks Kaz

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  6. My first has just started prep. I give him a lunch order once a week but he has to choose healthy options. My fondest memories of the tuckshop was having mum work there. I just loved pushing to the front of the line shouting, "my mums on tuckshop duty today". Another favourite would have to be the free sunny boy! OMG do you remember that?? I used to run around the school putting that damn packet with the yellow writing in every kids face that would listen to me! Ok I'm feeling a bit nostalgic now, I'll stop. :)

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    1. Thanks for all of your comments, Anita. Ah, the Sunnyboy - yes i definitely remember that, and i have a post coming up in a week or so, titled S for Sunnyboy. Oddly enough my memories of Sunnyboys are not based on the school canteen though. The free ones were definitely exciting,

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  7. I don't know how that works, the remembering of pricings at the shop then and now I can't even remember why I walked into room! A pie was 50cents and a can of coke was about the same. A packet of Marlboro was $1.78, and as a six year old I was allowed to walk to the corner shop on my own and buy them for my Dad!

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    1. That's so funny, Alicia. When I was a kid I was occasionally allowed to go to the shop to buy cigarettes for dad (he gave up the cigs when I was 12). A pack of his Craven A Special Mild cost 86 cents.

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  8. Oh this brought back memories of standing in line for most of recess and having about 1 minute to devour my purchase. I didn' t have a canteen at primary school but I wasted no time pouncing on it at secondary school. A Wagon Wheel and a hot Milo... oh yeah yummy! :-)

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  9. Chips in a buttered roll. However this became a thing is beyond me, but it was my FAV. Until high school when someone invented the Wagon Wheel...

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  10. I have fond memories of my school canteen. Apple jaffles dusted with icing sugar were my once a week treat.

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