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Lunchroom Ladies (Recipe: School Lunchroom Hamburger Soup)

December 27, 2012

The idea of school lunches  evokes a pleasant thought for me.  I grew up in the era of real lunchroom ladies who cooked meals from scratch. They arrived at school before the chickens were up and started cooking.  Wonderful aromas wafted throughout the school letting your lucky nose and sense of smell give clues about what might be in store at lunchtime.  I’m sure menus went  home, but I don’t remember that.  It seems to me I would just wait to  catch the drifting aromas and  figure out the day’s lunch.   I never brought my lunch from  home so whatever the lunchroom ladies had in store would take up residence in my gullet, sooner or later.

School Lunchroom Hamburger Soup with Saltines

School Lunchroom Hamburger Soup with Saltines

School Lunchroom Rolls were a big hit with almost everyone.  That fresh-baked yeasty roll would make you weak in the knees it  was so good.

Anyone who was lucky enough to eat in a school lunchroom during the era,  probably had Hamburger Soup.  Ahhh…..Hamburger Soup.  I remember it well.  It was often served with a cheese sandwich, not grilled cheese but  cold cheese, or peanut butter balls. The soup had plenty of protein making the addition of another protein interesting.

School lunchroom Hambuger Soup


To this day, a bowl of soup and a glass of milk is one of my favorite things in the whole big world. God bless Lunchroom Ladies, where ever they may be.

Y’all come see us!

School Lunchroom Hamburger Soup

yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ground hamburger meat joins lots of good vegetables for a soul-warming, gullet-pleasing, uncomplicated, big ‘ol bowl of soup.

4 large  carrots, peeled and diced
4 stalks celery, diced
2 onions, diced
1/4 cup olive oil
3 to 4 clove garlic, minced
3 pounds ground beef (85/15)
2 (14.5 oz.) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1 quart stock
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 bay leaves
2 cups whole kernel corn, fresh, frozen or canned
1 (15 oz.) can LeSuer very young small sweet peas, drained
salt and pepper to taste

Heat large soup pot and add olive oil. Sauté carrots, celery and onions for 10 minutes or until soft. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes.

Throw ground beef on top of all those beautiful vegetables and cook the meat until pink is gone. Don’t you dare drain away all that good juice after the meat is cooked. There’s very little fat in 85/15 ground beef. What little bit is there is going to add flavor.

Add tomatoes, tomato sauce, stock and Worcestershire sauce. Stir well.

Add bay leaves. Return to simmer. Cover and cook for 30 minutes.

Remove cover and add corn and peas. Stir. Cover and cook 15 minutes.

Taste for seasoning and adjust.

Ladle in soup bowls. For Cheeseburger Soup, add grated cheese to each bowl.

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60 Comments leave one →
  1. December 27, 2012 8:20 pm

    Sounds good!!!

  2. Sue, a Florida Farm Girl permalink
    December 27, 2012 10:11 pm

    Oh, yes! I loved that hamburger soup!!! Even now I pattern my own version of that soup after what I remember Ms. Edna Mae cooking in the lunchroom. And, it is good.

    • December 27, 2012 10:15 pm


      I made this soup up as I remembered it, too. I got pretty darn close, if I do say so myself! Were you served cheese sandwiches or peanut butter balls with yours?

      • Connie permalink
        January 19, 2015 3:13 pm

        Remember this soup well! LOVED IT!! We had peanut butter sandwiches with it and usually a sugar cookie.

  3. December 27, 2012 10:19 pm


    This recipe sounds hearty and filling. I love soups like this! I am in my late 20’s and spent my early years of elementary school in a VERY small Midwestern town.The lunch ladies there were so awesome! Not only were they such sweet ladies, but they made amazing food! Best cafeteria food hands-down! I loved their soups, hot rolls, chili pie and desserts…good memories!


    • December 27, 2012 10:51 pm


      My husband and I ate this soup for three days! I’m making up another batch soon to freeze.

      I love hearing about your fondness for lunchroom ladies. The ones I remember were just spectacular. 🙂

  4. Kittie Reibson permalink
    December 28, 2012 8:41 am

    I loved our lunch ladies. The one I remember most fondly was Tina. Our cafeteria was named Tina’s Luncheonette. She had box lunches and hot food every day. She was a great cook and the sweetest lady. Later in high school, our cafeteria had these peanut butter bars that were to die for. I went back after I had graduated and managed to charm the recipe from one of them. Of course I had to do a lot of math since it was in serious amounts of flour, sugar etc. but I got it figured out and nearly 40 years later I am making them for my granddaughter.

    • December 28, 2012 9:08 am


      The lunchroom ladies from our era were so sweet and nurturing. I’m not so sure our children and grandchildren have the same memories.

  5. Jean permalink
    December 28, 2012 9:48 am

    Jackie it seemed those cooks were the best! The yeast rolls and the peanut butter candy was always a hit. I love that soup!!

    • December 28, 2012 10:24 am

      They were great cooks, no doubt about that! And, just as importantly, they were sweet ladies. 🙂

  6. December 28, 2012 9:55 am

    I wrote about cafeteria ladies about a year ago. My memories are fond, because of recipes like the one you’ve posted.

    • December 28, 2012 10:17 am

      Thanks for stopping by! Lunchroom ladies have a pretty large fan base. I remember thinking about schoollunch before the day even got started. Good memories. 🙂

  7. Virginia G. permalink
    December 28, 2012 10:17 am

    My mother-in-law made this kind of soup, she used canned mixed veg. and called it poor mans stew. She had seven children to raise, and was very good cook.

    • December 28, 2012 10:41 am

      There was a time when ground beef was cheap but not so much anymore.

  8. Mary Raymundo permalink
    December 28, 2012 11:30 am

    One of my favorite memories was the smell of food when I entered the cafeteria. I always enjoyed my lunch there. Mac & Cheese, Soup, Tomato Sandwiches, It was all good.

    • December 28, 2012 12:16 pm


      Lunches were good then. They are so different now. I can’t,for the life of me,see how it’s more economical to serve pre made food including pizza, cheese sticks, sandwiches, etc., than making simple food from scratch. It seems to me they offer too many choices in one day which drives up their cost. I don’t know about you, but our only choice was to eat or not to eat.

  9. Danny Taylor permalink
    December 28, 2012 11:45 am

    Perfect winter time soup….gonna try this one this weekend!! Thanks Jackie!!

  10. Sherry permalink
    December 28, 2012 7:25 pm

    God bless you for posting your memory. You see, my grandmother was one of those sweet lunchroom ladies at my elementary school when I was a child. Her responsibility was baking those heavenly yeast rolls, biscuits, cornbread, and the desserts! Yes, I always got a little extra dessert serving! My grandma often made a batch of those melt in your mouth yeast rolls for family gatherings! Glad to have this recipe and will be trying it soon.

    • December 28, 2012 8:03 pm


      God bless your Grandmother! She touched the heart, soul and stomach of countless number of students. If only school lunch rooms were run the same today…..

  11. Stephanie permalink
    December 28, 2012 7:43 pm

    This is the type of vegetable soup my grandma used to make. Took me forever to perfect my own version after she passed. I’ve found the key to be freezing my leftover veggies and saving it for the soup.

    • December 28, 2012 8:05 pm


      How smart and frugal of you! I keep a bag in my freezer of leftover veggies and keep adding to it until I have enough for soup. The seasoned leftover veggies add more flavor to the soup, too!

  12. Carol Tyler permalink
    December 28, 2012 10:56 pm

    I remember my school serving this with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and it was so good together! Our lunchroom ladies also made the homeade yeast rolls and homeade yeast cinnamon rolls with real butter and lots of cinnamon and sugar on the bottoms….wonderful cooks!

  13. December 29, 2012 10:49 am

    Yes, the lunchroom ladies were the BEST! I remember the homemade pizza, peanut butter cookies, and hot homemade yeast rolls! This Hamburger Soup sounds So. Good. 🙂
    Happy New Year! ~Joy from Yesterfood

  14. Sharla Richardson permalink
    September 6, 2013 9:49 am

    Yes, our school lunches were great… You could smell the yeast rolls all morning in the hallways… Today’s school lunches are shameful… My three sons rarely bought and my last son at home – well if he is having a problem occassionally being nice in the mornings, I will just tell him he is buying his lunch that day as a mouth reminder sure gets my point across – ha…

    • September 6, 2013 4:45 pm

      HA!!!!! You punish your child with school lunches. That just a strong argument for just how bad they are. 🙂

  15. September 6, 2013 10:33 pm

    Did anyone ever have peanut butter sandwiches w/ grapes on them? I think that is what they served us. It doesnt sound good but it was. Yeast rolls and peanut butter cake w/ peanut butter glaze was my favorites!!

    • September 7, 2013 8:19 am


      What a clever idea to out grapes on a peanut butter sandwich! I remember peanut butter cake, too! And peanut butter balls. We had peanut butter quite a bit because it was a commodity. If you remember, prior to food stamps, the government doled out commodities such as peanut butter, cheese and butter. You never heard of anyone with peanut allergies, either. Just have to wonder why it’s so prevalent today.

  16. October 9, 2013 7:31 pm

    Where I’m from, in West GA, we call this Hamburger Stew and we eat it over or with cornbread (NOT the sweet kind!). 🙂

  17. jane permalink
    October 10, 2013 2:26 pm

    I wasnt blessed with cafeteria food until HS and then i thought i had died and gone to heaven…spicy spaghetti hot dinner rolls… and such delicious cookies and such.. everything homemade back then nothing packaged… i loved all the foods… i worked in cafeteria so i got free lunch… i am 67 yrs old but i will never forget those kind ladies and the wonderful food they fixed for us….we lived out west but we had a hurricane and school was locked down and they fixed us tomato soup and grill cheese sandwiches …that was the best dinner i ever ate… LOL… no one got hurt in our storm but i rode the bus 21 miles one way and I had to wait until the roads were cleared to go home…when i got to my town it was lifeless..i called the operator but she couldnt call my parents so she got a cop to take me home… lil more than soup info but i thought you might enjoy it…

    • October 10, 2013 2:42 pm


      Such a heart rendering story. It certainly was a different time back then.

  18. jane permalink
    October 10, 2013 2:29 pm

    there used to be a soup …called….AMERICAN POTAGE….it was a simple cheap hamburger soup… do any of you remember that soup….if you do…would you share your recipe i lost mine years ago

    • October 11, 2013 5:41 am

      Hi Jane! I don’t know about this soup. However, I googled “American Potage” and found several versions. You might try doing that to see if any of the versions looks like what you remember.

      • jane permalink
        October 11, 2013 12:46 pm


  19. October 8, 2014 6:25 pm

    I have made hamburger soup for years. Very much the same except no worcestershire sauce and I add peeled diced potatoes and I use frozen mixed veggies, The whole family loves it. My mother always ordered this for lunch at a restaurant called Shoney’s in PA, back in the 60’s.

    • October 8, 2014 8:32 pm


      It’s one of my favorites! I remember Shoney’s and I think they’re still around.

  20. Laura permalink
    November 5, 2014 2:36 pm

    Thanks for sharing your recipe with us. I have it in the crock pot now. Looks delicious. I am currently working as a lunch lady at a primary school. I admit we do a lot of pre made food now which is surely different than years back. A lot of quality does suffer for it as well. We would love to be able to cook food as used to be done but they have had so many budget cuts that we just don’t have the staff to be able to.

    • November 6, 2014 10:34 am


      God bless school lunchroom workers everywhere! You do the very best you can under challenging circumstances to provide a nourishing meal to our children. More than the meal itself, you are a warm smile and friendly face. 🙂

  21. Doris Hartley permalink
    January 10, 2015 10:25 am

    I learned to make soup from my mother . We added cubed potatoes , green butter beans , sometimes sliced okra . I make it frequently and at times add barley , or rice or macaroni elbows .

  22. Marcia Curls Wiek permalink
    January 12, 2015 9:58 pm

    I loBed this soup, but do you know the recipe of the peanut butter balls? I would love to have that! Yes, these ladies were wonderful!!!

  23. sharon chiles permalink
    January 15, 2015 6:49 pm

    This is beef stock we put in here. Right???

    • January 16, 2015 1:35 pm


      I use chicken or turkey because I always have it on hand. You can use beef if you’d like.

  24. Jan permalink
    January 15, 2015 8:22 pm

    I’ve made hamburger chowder for years and like making it in my pressure cooker.

  25. Becky M permalink
    January 16, 2015 1:11 am

    My Mom use to make this she put v8 juice and rice in it . :]

  26. Wanda permalink
    January 20, 2015 1:32 am

    Can I divide this recipe in half it is too much for two people and no freezer to put the extra?

  27. Judy permalink
    January 21, 2015 4:13 pm

    Cooking this now, wondering do I drain the corn, the recipe doesn’t say.Thanks

    • February 1, 2015 6:29 pm


      Sorry for the late response. Your comment was caught by my spam filter and aim just now seeing it. I hope everything worked out well for you. I used frozen corn in mine but it’s not necessary to drain canned corn.

  28. cookiehugs permalink
    January 23, 2015 9:19 pm

    Oh Gosh! I grew up on this soup. My mom was the lunch lady that wiped down the tables as each class left. Since she worked at the same elementary school we went to, we stayed in the lunchroom absorbing the great smells and counting the hours before lunch. Oh how times have changed, but 3 meals I duplicate to this day is the hamburger soup, pinto beans and chili. No better eating, unless it’s a great ribeye LOL

    • February 1, 2015 6:21 pm


      What great memories you have! Those were the days, as we say. 🙂

  29. Laura Jackson permalink
    January 30, 2015 5:29 pm

    Love this soup. Brought back good memories! We had PBJ with ours which was perfect. Do you have the peanut butter cake and frosting,”lunchroom”, recipe? Yummy! Thank you for what you do. We have gotten so removed from the home cooked, simple foods.

    • February 1, 2015 6:25 pm


      I don’t have that recipe but I’m always on the lookout for authentic vintage school lunchroom recipes. We had a number of great peanut butter recipes and never knew of anyone with a peanut allergy.

  30. S.W. permalink
    February 18, 2016 4:53 pm

    What is the point of having a “Print Friendly” version if I have to get all the comments with it?

    • February 18, 2016 6:13 pm

      You can delete anything you don’t want to print. In the print preview, delete comment, photos or anything else you don’t need.

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