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What is up with the cheese sandwiches?

I have talked to two people this week who remember ruefully being sent off to elementary school every single day with a lunch consisting of an american cheese sandwich. The one guy didn't even get mayo or a twinkie or anything else. Both guys, and they are different ages and don't know each other, begged their moms for a little variety once in awhile, to no avail. Apparently it wasn't a money thing in either case as there was always a new car in the driveway and other luxuries for the adults. I know this is kind of a strange topic but I was wondering if any other chowhounds were inflicted with the endless unrelenting cheese sandwich lunch?

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  1. We didn't get just bread and cheese for school lunch, but our favorite snack coming home after school was grilled cheese. White bread, two slices of Kraft (cellophane wrapped), and a little butter on each side, grilled in my mom's little cast iron pan. Nothing more elaborate, but nothing tastier.

    1. I would sometimes get untoasted white bread, slathered in too much butter, topped with a slice of generic processed cheese. If my father was especially lazy, there wouldn't even be butter on the bread and I'd eat a dry sandwich that tasted the way a freezer smells. For us it wasn't so much a money thing either as a sign I think my father secretly hated me.

      1 Reply
      1. re: JungMann

        We also had something similar growing up: white bread, butter, white processed cheese. But there was usually (but sometimes not) green chutney or similar also spread on the bread. Tomato slices were good too, but the sandwich grew mushy by lunchtime.
        Other days were jam sandwiches: white bread, butter, if we were lucky my mom's homemade plum jam, otherwise storebought sugary stuff.
        My mother used to want to pack us the good stuff (roti+sabzi; idlis+chutney), but we preferred "convenience". Obviously I've done a 180 on this now.

      2. It's been a while since I've had one of these, but I recall having them frequently as a kid by choice. It's hard to beat the simplicity, convenience, and tastiness of a slice of American cheese tucked in between two slices of fresh white bread. Makes me nostalgic just thinking about it.

        1 Reply
        1. re: gloriousfood

          I had them as a kid by choice. Usually plain, without mayo.
          Heck I might have one tonight!

        2. Yup, that was me -- after I begged my mom NOT to pack me weird food (like futo maki or stirfry over rice or tea eggs.... what was I thinking?!?!) and after I became a vegetarian in fifth grade. She'd occasionally try to sneak lunch meat in there, edges tucked neatly under, so they weren't visible beyond the crust. Half the time, I fed the cheese sandwich to Sandy, the golden retriever that lived in the yard by my bus stop.

          It wasn't a money issue: my parents were frugal, but went all out when it came to food. I think my mom was really at a loss for what to feed someone who wanted gringo vegetarian food. It's the same story on Indian airlines. If you choose Indian vegetarian, you get some halfway palatable dal with rice. If you chose "western" vegetarian, you get white bread with processed cheese.

          2 Replies
          1. re: cimui

            When I was a kid I also loved cheese sandwiches with mayo or sometimes ketchup. Fortunately, I didn't have to eat the same thing every day for lunch. My parents gave me much of whatever I requested. I loved my Mom's tunafish salad, chicken salad, egg salad, and roast beef sandwiches, she always packed grapes, bananas, or other type of fruit along with a Tastykake and some potato chips, or my favorite, potato sticks.

            And, when thinking of grilled cheese sandwiches, I salivate. In my teen years, instead of using yellow cheese on white bread (buttered on the outside and heated in a skillet), I used to use raisin bread (buttered on the outside....) and swiss cheese when I made a "grilled" cheese sandwich. The nutty flavor of the swiss cheese was complimented by the sweet raisins in the bread. Think I'll have one for lunch tomorrow. FoiGras

            1. re: FoiGras

              a grilled cheese sandwich is one of the loveliest things to eat in the world -- but a cold cheese sandwich, or worse, a cold grilled cheese sandwich? blech!

          2. @givemecarbs- I always knew when there was nothing left in the house when I would open up my lunch box/ brown bag and there was the heel of the bread with Kraft cheese, tomato, and mayo! Hey, it happens when your parents work.

            2 Replies
            1. re: jacquelines

              I just had a cheese sandwich 2 days ago, jalepeno jack on multi-grain. As for a kid, I really don't remember my mother (or father) making me lunch to take to school. It was more like here's a fiver, stop off at the bagel store before class, or get it from the caf.

              1. re: MrsT

                Yesterday morning I had a grilled cheese at the Clover on Bourbon Street for breakfast. It was divine!!! With a side of pickles. MMM.. When I cook them at home I put the pickles on them. I fancy it up a little with cheddar instead of American cheese.

            2. When growing up my family barely had the money to pack lunches. I was the school lunch program or nothing. Grilled cheese was a rare thing. Now, I eat them almost every weekend lunch and love them. With three slices of cheese, white bread, buttered on both sides.

              1. this is funny because Whole Foods sells a cheese sandwich in their fridge section, just white bread with swiss and cheddar (and maybe american?). i brought it home for my boy, and had planned to toast or grill it for him. after unloading groceries and running to the bathroom, i emerge to find him munching away on said cold, unmelted, uncondimented sandwich. i shrieked at him "no no no!" he didn't understand my hysteria. he was halfway through the first half, so i let him keep that one, but insisted on "fixing" the other half. i wanted to make it extra yummy, so that he would notice a distinct, amazing difference. i used kerrigold butter and pan-grilled it. he said "well it's better, but it's not worth flipping out over." are we kidding here? sheesh, some boys.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Emme

                  Wow I didn't expect so many awesome responses. I can remember my girlfriend Debbie making me an american cheese sandwich and a coke as the ultimate after school snack. I swear they tasted better back then. But I still would have hated having to eat one every day. Then there are my two friends Rob and John. They were roomates but somehow Rob ended up buying the food, much to his dismay. One day John looked in the fridge and yelled indignantly "Yo why did you buy cheese for our lunches! You know I hate cheese!!" Rob smiled and said "you just answered your own question."

                2. Funny you mention this b/c I do remember kids having cheese sandwiches and I always thought they were disgusting. It really bothered me, for some reason. As a kid, I wasn't big on cheese so I'm sure that's part of it (I outgrew that nonsense... but only eat real cheese, not the processed stuff). I also remember some kids put ketchup on theirs.

                  Oddly though, I do love a good grilled cheese sammy and a cheese cosmos, loaded up. Melting, I guess, is the secret to my heart (and tummy).

                  1. I still love a sharp cheddar and mustard sandwich =)

                    1. My mom made us cheese sandwiches - but it was good cheddar on whole wheat with mayo. It was also a treat to get them on fresh french bread. I liked them fine fresh and cold, but...! She also packed them in our lunches, and our school was not air conditioned - a warm cheese sandwich on a muggy Alabama day...yuck! Even worse was one St. Patrick's Day when she got creative and dyed the mayo green...

                      1. I was a public school hot lunch kid- my parents worked and didn't have time to make many lunches. The catalog of lunch options was revolting for the most part (creamed hamburger, stewed tomatoes) but every few weeks we'd get a really buttery perfect grilled cheese and tomato soup. So good!

                        Occassionally, I got cream cheese and jelly sandwiches. They were so soggy by lunch.

                        The worst lunch I ever heard of was cream cheese and mint jelly- my friends mother was away so Dad made lunch. Sad.

                        1. Oh, dear, givemecarbs, your post has me wallowing in a Pity Party. Give me carbs too, but not my Mom's cheese sandwiches.

                          Both my parents worked, so preparation of school lunches in our house was a very streamlined procedure. Every weekend as I was growing up, Mom made 10 sandwiches, five for me and five for my sister Marcie. Each was either peanut butter and jelly or one slice of processed cheese and one slice of processed meat (usually bologna or olive loaf) on dry white bread. Ack! Every weekday morning, Marcie and I would stuff one icy sandwich and a box of raisins in a brown paper bag, and grab money to buy a half-pint of milk in the school cafeteria. I don't really like raisins, but the alternative dessert on offer, an apple, was guaranteed to produce a deformed sandwich by lunchtime.

                          Mom's Friday night toasted cheese sandwiches were Velveeta on white bread toasted DRY under the broiler. Over time her recipe has evolved. Now she uses fat-free processed cheese food! Love her to bits, but she is a dreadful cook.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: WendyBinCT

                            Hearing all of the horror stories of when we were kids and lousy lunches, no wonder we've turned into CHOWHOUNDS and have discriminating tastes. FoiGras

                            1. re: WendyBinCT

                              Are you TRYING to generate pity cuz man, you sho 'nuf did, sister. DAMN! I had to run and get a tissue. That's the most pitiful tale I've heard in recent memory. Well, outside of what I witnessed Ted Kennedy babble on about the other night at the DNC, bless his heart.

                              But seriously, loved your post. It created great visuals. Like a mangled, dough-y white bread pb &j sammy and a bruised apple in a overly wrinkled brown sack. I can even smell it. Ha!

                            2. I think they were just unimaginative. My parents were of the sort that believed in "fresh" cold cuts (if there is such a thing) and always bought one of the following at the start of the week, with a refill mid-way: Boar's Head Deluxe Ham (cooked type), "Spiced Ham" (which looked a lot like plain old lunch meat) and Olive Loaf. Cheese or scrambled egg sandwiches made it into the lunchbox on Fridays, because you couldn't eat meat. If you made the mistake of telling my mother that you liked one of them particularly, as I once did about Olive Loaf or my brother once did about "Spiced Ham" -- she served it to you relentlessly for weeks. I used to beg for "turkey roll" -- just to get a break from the ham products. She thought things like PBJ and bologna were junk food, and only when she consented to allow me to eat hot lunch at school did I get a reprieve. BTW, this was probably the best thing ever to happen to me in my chow career, as I was fed an incredible variety of veggies and meats, and learned to eat all of it. I still cringe at Olive Loaf today, although I did try it again a few years ago. Don't know what I was thinking.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: RGC1982

                                You are generous of spirit to give my two guys' moms the benefit of the doubt, but they were just being really really cheap. The older guy, Bill used to beg for any filler but cheese. Nope. Yet another friend went on a fishing trip as a child and got the cheese sandwich on white with ketchup to eat. I had never heard of that until he told me, and then I read about here on chowhound. As for me, I got mostly good school hot lunches so I was lucky. One in awhile they would have stuff I hated so my mom would pack me a bologna and cheese sandwich on white with a little butter and a banana. I was always starved by lunch so I would stuff it down even though the bread would end up tasting banana-y from laying on top of the sandwhich.

                              2. For me it was always peanut butter and jelly, cheese or tuna. Those were my only options.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Chew on That

                                  Pretty much same for me, with an occasional roast beef sandwich thrown in.

                                  As far as grilled cheese, I stopped using butter a while ago. Not just the calories, but I got tired of the sandwich kind of 'caving in' from the water in the butter turning to steam.

                                  I have a little pump up sprayer for oil (think refillable PAM can) that I mist the bread with instead. Sandwich toasts nicely, a bit crunchy, and firm, not floppy. Muy yummy!

                                  1. re: mgwerks

                                    My mom made us "traditional" grilled cheese with "wrap" cheese and white bread, grilled in the pan, but when I got older, she shared with me her treat - open face cheese sandwich, made with sharp cheddar and decent bread (usually a French loaf), grilled under the broiler until the cheese melts, and served with HP (a sharp brown) sauce. You had to eat this with a knife and a fork. At ten years old, I felt very "gourmet".

                                2. I to this day have been known to bring a cheese sandwich for lunch. 2-3 slices of kraft cheese on potato bread with Helmans mayo........I don;t think its bad!!!

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Lindseyup67

                                    It's not. But to be forced as a young kid to eat a cheese sandwich every weekday even after begging for a change seems odd to me. And to know two guys very well that have the same experience is just weird. Choice is key. And it is the ultimate fast easy cheap lunch that even adults enjoy now and then. But not these two. It would make them ill.

                                    1. re: givemecarbs

                                      Did any of you have a fried bologna sandwich with ketchup (or other condiment)? I also Loved when my Beloved Mom and/or Dad used to make a fried egg sandwich for me. Also, my Mom's version of a BLT -bacon, lettuce, tomato on Schmidt's Blue Ribbon Bread with "Russian dressing"--her version--mayo, ketchup and a spoon full of pickle relish.
                                      YUM! FoiGras

                                      1. re: FoiGras

                                        I've had scrapple sandwiches on soft white bread with ketchup in winter. But then, I'm from the Philadelphia area. Around here our convenience stores have soft pretzels delivered in the wee hours. Great for a fast breakfast! And I do think fried bologna is yummy, but I like it once in awhile with scrambled eggs for breakfast.

                                  2. I never got a plain cheese sandwich for lunch- it was either cheese and marmite or cheese and relish. I still love a cheese sandwich, pretty much anytime- I had one for breakfast today- but my 2 varieties these days are sharp cheddar with tomato, or american with mayo and mustard.