House and Home: Going to School in 1887

At five or six years old, the school-life of the majority of children begins, and the food question, that which will best supply waste and build up the growing body, assumes a new importance. Children are sometimes difficult to manage in regard to food. They have their “notions,” they imbibe prejudices, and are distressed by tastes which parents frequently consider should be ignored. Children are quite dependent on the presiding genius of the family, not only for the kind of food they get to eat, but for the time allotted to them in which to eat it. After long years of experience, I have found few families in which children were considerately and deliberately and zealously provided for. A hasty and indigestible breakfast is generally gulped down; a piece of bread and butter, with or without a scrap of cold meat, and a piece of dried or soggy cake is picked up for lunch, and upon this the active young body does its work. No wonder children grow pinched and sallow, and either succumb to the early inroads of disease, or struggle with all forms of dyspepsia.

The food may and should be plain, but it should be of the best, carefully and thoroughly cooked for school children, and served so as to give them abundance of time to eat without hurry, and start well the process of digestion before starting upon the school work of the day. Mothers often complain that their children will not eat healthful food—oatmeal and the like. The reason of this is frequently because the meal is not good, or well, or at least not regularly well-cooked. Some mothers do not even know the difference between one kind of oatmeal and another, or how it should be cooked, or with what it is best and most healthfully served, and will not take the trouble to cultivate healthful tastes by preparing nourishing and simple food in its most attractive way.

School teachers have testified to me that it was not uncommon for children to rush off to school without their breakfast because it Was “late,” and that an examination, time and again, of hundreds of lunch baskets, had always resulted in the same way, in the finding of the same small portion of flour and water crackers, or bread and butter, and bit of cake and dried cheese, with perhaps a pickle! The mid-day lunch is of the greatest importance to growing children, and ought to be warm, at least in winter. A good soup, free from fat, a piece of bread, two apples, and gingerbread cookies flavored with caraway seed, will fill the bill, or the young stomach pretty well. If the hot soup is not possible, if the luncheon must be carried, provide at least the apples and cookies , or gingerbread in bulk, with brown bread and butter, and the little one will not suffer. Well made gingerbread, or gingerbread cookies , are better than cake, because more assimilative and digestible. If made with the yolks (not whites) of a couple of eggs, and flavored with caraway seed, they become at once more nourishing and more “staying.” They prevent the accumulation of gas and wind in the stomach, and assist in preserving its tone. It may be remarked in passing, that they should be mixed with buttermilk and a small amount of butter, not lard; the acid of a pint of buttermilk corrected with a dessert-spoonful of carbonate of soda, put into the flour, and well blended, not into the buttermilk.

All children like hard-boiled eggs, but they are usually furnished in a perfectly uneatable and in-nutritious way—dark, soggy, indigestible. To be good for the lunch-basket, eggs should be cooked in slowly boiling water fifteen minutes; the yolks extracted from the white part, mixed with a crumb or two of butter, a little salt, and modicum of pepper, this last not essential. Put the mixture in a small cup or glass, and tie it down, or spread it as meat between bread and butter. Chopped sardines may be used as a variation from this, sprinkled with lemon, and both will make good and highly appreciated school sandwiches. Sandwiches made with meat, should always be made with the cooked meat chopped and seasoned, they are much better, keep fresh longer, and are more digestible.

In SchoolIt is not well to make children too fastidious, or pamper their appetites with rich food, but it ought to be good of its kind, well cooked and neatly served; if these conditions are observed, they can be habituated to eat anything and everything offered them.

An equally important factor in the school-life of children is their clothing. In our northern and most fitful climate, it is hardly ever warm enough. There is not enough care taken to provide woolen garments next the skin, to grade them according to the season, to keep them on all the year round, to put the warm ones on early enough, and keep on late enough, to make the rest of the clothing, particularly shoes and stockings, sufficiently protective for stormy and cold weather. There is plenty of ruffling, plenty of fancy work on children’s clothing as a rule; but that is cheap and showy, the warmth and protection costs more and shows less. But it builds up, it creates joy, and strength activity, and long life and saves doctor’s bills. Low cut shoes or slippers should never be worn by children, not even in-doors; if foolish women wish to shorten their lives that way, let them; but save the children. They are one of the most prolific causes of pneumonia.

When children have been brought into the world they should be cared for well and wisely. This is responsibility that no parent can put on the shoulders of another. Children are stones upon which parents write their wickedness or wisdom, and he who runs may read. The next paper in this series of talks will be “The effect of Study upon the Health of a Child.”

Godey’s Lady’s Book— Louis Antoine Godey began publishing Godey’s Lady’s Book in 1830. He designed his monthly magazine specifically to attract the growing audience of literate American women. The magazine was intended to entertain, inform, and educate the women of America.

Source: Godey’s Lady’s Book, October, 1887
Top Image: God bless our school (Currier & Ives)
Lower Image: Boys teasing girl in classroom.

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