August 19, 2015

Kaiser Permanente — encouraging healthy school lunches since the FDR administration

Children's snack at Kaiser child care center, The Bo's'n's Whistle November 25, 1943.

Contributed by Lincoln Cushing, Archivist and Historian

As parents ramp up to send their children to school after a long, thriving summer, tips for guiding them to eat the right food is a popular topic. Kaiser Permanente recently produced a great article about healthy school lunches, but many people don’t know that the original Permanente Health Plan for World War II shipyard workers promoted healthy lunches for kids as well.

Among Henry J. Kaiser’s social benefit programs for his shipyard workers were the Child Service Centers. At the time these innovative facilities were the largest in the world, and took care of children of working parents from 18 months to six years. It cost 75 cents a day for one child and $1.25 for two. The Maritime Nursery for the Richmond (Calif.) yards opened June 1, 1943, and the centers in the Northwest yards in Oregon and Washington opened in late 1943.

The centers were under the direction of Dr. Lois Meek Stolz, former director of the Child Development Institute at Columbia University and a well-known authority on child care and training. Assisting her was James L. Hymes, Jr., former assistant state supervisor of nursery schools in New York. The importance of food and nutrition were seen as a key component in the program’s success. Hymes wrote:

Food influences behavior. Small children…have pounded into us in unforgettable ways that hungry people are irritable; that they fight more; that they cry easily; that they become destructive…Some children we have seen, hungrier still, have told us that hunger can make people placid, inactive, lethargic…

1944 historical photo of parent picking up prepared meal at Kaiser child care center.
Parent picking up prepared meal at Kaiser child care center, The Bo's'n's Whistle 2/11/1944.

An article in The Bos’n’s Whistle (the weekly magazine for the Northwest shipyards) published November 5, 1943, mentioned their food program:

Mid-morning lunch consists of graham crackers and fruit juice, a regular part of the daily schedule for all children at 9:30 every morning. Meals are supervised by expert dietitians.

Time is always tight for working parents, so the Kaiser shipyards helped out. An article from The Bos'n's Whistle from February 11, 1944, announced a program of ready-cooked meals for all day-shift workers at the Oregon and Swan Island shipyards. The meals were planned by an expert nutritionist. Upon ordering two days in advance, the meals could be picked up at the Child Care Centers.

Mrs. Eva Ball, Oregon Ship tool checker, arrives at the Child Care Center, collects her two children and her already-prepared main course for the family evening meal. Mrs. Margaret Tipton, assistant food supervisor, passes the ready-packed meal over the counter. Miss Sheldon, assistant nutritionist is at the window.

Good food. Part of Kaiser’s broad view of health since 1943.