School lunch sugar cookies

Sugar cookies with icing and sprinkles

I got the recipe from my mother, who works as a lunch lady and has been making and serving these cookies to thousands of students for over 20 years.

By combining butter and oil for the fat, as well as using both powdered and granulated sugars, the result is a soft, pillowy sugar cookie that melts in your mouth. Mmmm.

If you ever went to a public school in the midwest in the 80s and 90s and ate school lunches, you probably remember what I do: styrofoam trays filled with chicken goulash, spaghetti served with garlic bread made from hot dog buns, chili paired with peanut butter sandwiches, and desserts like apple crisp and spice cake that you ate with plastic sporks while sitting at long, speckled formica tables. And these cookies.

Over the years, school lunch in the United States has undergone a lot of changes, and some schools have cut out dessert entirely, requiring more vegetables and fruits that are poorly prepared, taste horrible and end up in the trash can. True story.

In case you miss those days, here’s something that will bring back memories of elementary school crushes, recess, and story time.


  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 1/2 + 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 2/3 tsp cream of tartar
  • 2 + 2/3 cup + 3 Tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup + 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup + 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 stick + 2 Tbsp + 1 tsp butter
  • 1/3 cup + 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract


Preheat oven to 350 deg. F.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, salt, cream of tartar, and baking soda, set aside.

In a large bowl, cream together sugars and butter with a hand mixer. Add the oil and continue mixing until blended.

Add egg, vanilla and almond extracts, mix until combined.

Stir in the flour mixture with a spatula or wooden spoon until almost all of the flour is gone and the batter sticks together in a slightly oily ball.

Using a spoon, gather and roll the dough into 2″ balls, and place them on baking sheets two inches apart. If you want flatter cookies unlike those pictured below, use your palm, the bottom of a drinking glass, or any clean flat surface to press down the dough spheres so they’re about 1″ in height before baking.

school lunch sugar cookies

Bake for about 10 to 11 minutes, or until the center of the cookies no longer look wet and shiny. They won’t have an appetizing color–in fact–they’ll look quite pale, but they’re perfectly done.

Makes about 25-30 cookies about 3″ in diameter.

If you prefer your sugar cookies with icing, I used this recipe from Serious Eats and it worked beautifully for frosting 26 cookies with a thin layer (it’s very sweet, so you don’t need much).

Vanilla Icing

  • 10 ounces powdered sugar (1 1/2 cups; 285g)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt; for table salt, use the same weight or half as much by volume
  • 2 1/2 ounces heavy cream (shy 1/3 cup; 70g)
  • 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract

Whisk ingredients in a bowl, adding sugar 1/2 cup at a time until smooth and creamy. Taste after each 1/2 cup and add (or omit) sugar according to your desired sweetness. Cover bowl with plastic pressed directly against the surface. Set aside until needed, up to 24 hours at room temperature.

This entry was posted in baking.

2 Responses

  1. Susan Griffin says:

    Does your mom remember a recipe from the 1960’s for peanut butter frosting? They used it on a plain yellow cake. My lunch ladies are all gone now and I have been searching high and low for this recipe. This is the only thing I remember from those lunches! I would appreciate it very much if you could ask your mom.

    • Trucy Phan says:

      I am actually going home for Thanksgiving and will ask her! Sorry for the late response, I didn’t see your message until just now :)

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