Hundred-Year-Old Packed Lunch Suggestions

figure with boxed lunch menus
Source: American Cookery (April, 1919)

I often struggle to come up with good ideas for packed lunches, so was pleased to find some new (old) ideas for “box luncheons for office or school” in a hundred-year-old magazine.

38 thoughts on “Hundred-Year-Old Packed Lunch Suggestions

  1. That seems like a lot of food. That would feed me for the whole day with left-overs. Did people have all those foods on hand like pickled tongue and lamb tomato soup? Did they make them from scratch?

    1. Based on the number of old recipes that I see for tongue; I believe that it more popular a hundred years ago than now. Maybe stores or delis sold pickled tongue- not sure. I’m also not sure whether the Lamb and Tomato soup would have been made from scratch or from a can. I’ve seen Campbell’s Soup advertisements in hundred-year-old magazines – though never any for that particular variety.

  2. Those are hearty lunches–sounds like they’re designed for farmworkers to take into the fields rather than children to take to school!

    1. The lunches definitely sound like they are for someone who is doing a lot of physical labor – though the heading in the hundred-year-old magazine says “Box Luncheons for Office or School.” Maybe a bit more labor was involved in “pounding” on the typewriter keys on old manual typewriters than typing with modern computers – but it doesn’t seem like enough to justify a huge lunch.

  3. These are big lunches. Most days I don’t even eat lunch and a lunch this size would impair me for the rest of the day!
    On this sizes, one thing to keep in mind is that most people had manual jobs, hours were longer (the 8 hour day was just coming in) and quite a few people walked to work. In the late 19th Century a 7 mile walking commute was the norm. I don’t know what it would have been in 1919, but quite a few workers still hiked some distance to get to work.

    1. Yes, I also think that people often walked long distances to get to work a hundred years ago. Your comment led me to search for the length of the workday in 1919. According to the Economic History Association, “Hours fell strongly during the years surrounding World War I, so that by 1919 the eight-hour day (with six workdays per week) had been won. “

  4. I like how people didn’t live in fear of sugar back then. Today sugar has become a villain, but back then it was included as a given in the foods that you’d eat.

  5. Ah yes, the good old days, when it was important to eat a hearty meal to sustain one until supper. Because for some folks, child or adult, when arriving home from work or school, there was much work to be done before supper.
    I like the menu. There’s some great choices for a packed lunch.

    1. You’re right – many people needed to go out and do farm chores before eating supper (and, it would have been called supper back then, not dinner).

  6. Some good ideas! Iโ€™m sure glad I donโ€™t have to pack school lunches anymore, or not many work lunches. That often was a chore that got old!

    1. Your comment reminds me of how each of my children had distinct preferences when it came to packed lunches. If I inadvertently got the “wrong” lunch in a child’s backpack, I was sure to hear about it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. I notice how carefully all of those portions were measured, and I also suspect two or three of those sandwiches might equal only one of the size common today. All it needs is a glance at the traditional three-part plate from the 1930s and 1940s, compared to the plates in restaurants today, to understand that serving sizes have doubled, tripled, or even more.

    1. You might well be right on sizes. On one photo I found of women (girls actually) eating lunch of a factory floor in 1908, the proportions looked pretty tiny.

    2. It makes sense that the sandwiches may have been smaller than sandwiches today – though both those who made their own bread and those who purchased it from a bakery typically would have had to slice it themselves, which may have led to relatively thick slices.

      I’d forgotten about those divided plates until you mentioned them. I wonder why they became popular for awhile. They really seem like they catered to the child (or adult) who didn’t want any one type of food to touch any other type of food.

    1. There’s a really good article by the late Henry Fairlie that ran in The New Republic a couple of decades ago called “The Cow’s Revenge”. In that, he details the lunch of late 19th Century industrial workers. Their lunches were actually really substantial. Likewise, the lunches of early 20th Century farm workers (prior to WWII) were huge.
      They were expending a lot of calories is the reason why.
      I don’t have Fairlie’s article in front of me, but one thing I recall about it is that the average late 19th Century industrial worker walked seven miles each way to work, carried their lunch, and actually carried their tools.

      1. Wow, seven miles! It would be interesting to know how many calories they consumed in an average work day. Also, farmers didn’t get a day off, so their routine did not get interrupted by weekends.

        1. Days off is a good point as well. Up until the 20th Century (which 1919 is just into, really) a lot of industrial laborers had only one day off, Sunday. The teens were right at the point where 8 hour days started to be adopted, so they were also working around 10 hours a day pretty routinely.
          I know that I’d feel pretty worn out if I hiked to work about seven miles carrying my tools and lunch with me, and then repeated the process at the end of the day. I’d probably need a lunch.

      2. Whew, if they worked 10-hour-days and walked an hour to work, and another hour home, they sure didn’t have much leisure time (or time with their families).

    1. It’s nice to hear that you enjoyed this post. I also wondered about some of the things in the menu. For example, what is a “chocolate nougatine”? I assume that it’s some kind of cookie, but I’m not exactly sure what it would be like.

  8. My mum always made my father a thermos flask of soup in the winter plus sandwiches plus cake…But he cycled to work and had a manual job. I also don’t remember having snacks we had our meals and that was it…In the summer maybe ice cream as a treat but nothing regular like kids seem to get today ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. I have colleagues who often heat soup in a microwave at work. Back in the days before microwaves, hot soup in a thermos was probably really appreciated on cold winter days.

  9. That was good food back then with no chemicals and nothing filled with corn syrup. This was very interesting as are all your posts that I manage to get here to read. Hugs

  10. I am sure my father went home for lunch in 1919 and I’m pretty sure he didn’t get such a big lunch! Wow! That is a lot of food.

    1. If people lived near their work (or school) they were much more likely to go home for lunch back then. I guess that it was partially because many women didn’t work outside their homes back then, and could make lunch for their families.

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