The Dark Side of the School Lunch Program

Anyone who ever went to school in Central Florida knows about the Dark Side of the School Lunch Program.

They call it Potato Turbate. Don’t ask me why. That’s just what they call it. Does anyone know what a “turbate” is? It’s still on the menu for the Pinellas County Schools. My brother and I absolutely detested it. It was worse than the mystery meat burgers (which came pre-soaked in a watered-down sauce not entirely unlike ketchup). It was worse than the very large Lunchroom Matron with the microphone who kept order. (The teachers had duty-free lunch. They got to relax and kibbitz in child-free luxury while we were herded by a cross between Shirley Q. Liquor and Barry Bonds.) They got to eat real food while we got to eat . . .

Potato Turbate

Believe it or not, some kids pined for Potato Turbate. I thought it was revolting. It was apparently so popular, they had to print the recipe in the St. Petersburg Times, so kids could have it at home! Eat it at home? As if eating it in school weren’t punishment enough?

Anyway, for those of you who pine for School-Lunch cuisine, here’s the recipe for the dreaded . . .

Potato Turbate

6 servings instant mashed potatoes
1 pound ground beef
3 level tablespoons chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup beef bouillon
2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine

Prepare instant potatoes according to package directions.

Brown ground meat lightly; drain off fat (I think they skipped the “drain off fat” part at my school). Add onions and seasoning (I also think they skipped the “seasoning” part: it was as bland as Bob Newhart). Cook 5 minutes longer. Add flour; mix well with meat mixture. Stir and scrape bottom of pan (don’t want to leave any of that Turbate-y goodness in the pan, now, do we?). Add bouillon to meat and spoon into greased casserole (like there’s not enough grease already). Spread mashed potatoes over meat. Brush potatoes with melted butter and dust lightly with paprika. Bake at 400 degrees until brown on top, about 25 minutes.

The source I found added these embellishments:

“Patricia Sandage of St. Petersburg prepares a deluxe version with homemade mashed potatoes instead of instant.” (Ooh! Potato Turbate Deluxe!)

“Carol Hartman of Largo tops the meat with a thick layer of American cheese before adding the mashed potatoes.” (It couldn’t hurt.)

“Alice Black of St. Petersburg mixes 2 tablespoons flour with the meat, then adds 1 cup bouillon and 1 (1-pound) can drained green beans to the meat mixture.” (Then that would be, Shepherd’s Pie Turbate?)

“Faye Schmelig of Palm Harbor adds green beans (drained 1-pound can) and a can of condensed tomato soup (instead of the bouillon) to the meat mixture.” (Thus creating the even more-appetizingly-named “Schmelig Turbate.”)

And to all of you who were still thinking of what to fix for dinner, let me just say, “You’re welcome!”


About revjatb

I am a father of six who is trying to do his best! My interests are varied. I have one blog, KnowTea, that is primarily focused on liturgy and worship and another one, Bengtsson's Baking, that is about, well, baking! I hope you enjoy both of them, and if you have any questions, please contact me!
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21 Responses to The Dark Side of the School Lunch Program

  1. RevJATB says:

    And Vrouw Jonker, let me hasten to add this:

    Do not even think about making this and bringing it to a covered-dish luncheon at church. That will not be amusing in the least.

    See, I had to say that because I could hear those wheels a-turnin’ all the way over here in Ruston.

  2. Mark says:

    Feel free to delete this comment:

    Comment deleted per author’s suggestion. Insert your own “Potato Turbate” joke here.

  3. RevJATB says:

    Well, whaddaya know . . .

    Apparently, the name for this dish comes from the Italian turbate, which means “upsotten”–the “turvy” part of the phrase “topsy-turvy” comes from the same root.

    So it was tur-BAH-tay. All the Lunch Ladies pronounced it “tur-bait”.

    I get it now: gravy on the bottom, mashed potatoes on top. Hence, turbate.

    Only problem is, the dish itself isn’t remotely Italian.

  4. Sara says:

    coulda been worse. coulda been called “mashed potato upside down cake”

    personally, i think mashed potatoes and just about anything is pretty darn good.

  5. My mind is spinning with this one! And I’m trying to control my laughter…please don’t ever say “Potato Turbate” at church…at least during worship – I’m already vulnerable enough to stale humor that I’ll probably just crack up during inappropriate times when “Potato Turbate” pops into my head…

    Sara – I don’t know if there’s a worse name than Potato Turbate…especially if it’s not pronounced the Italian way.

    Surely they didn’t serve this to high school students!! It’d be much better to call it “mashed potato upside down cake” to high school students. Oh, gosh!

  6. I can’t even LOOK at this post anymore!!

  7. RevJATB says:

    Nope, I’m afraid it was “Potato Turbate” on the high school menus, too.

    If you Google it, you’ll find that some people in the Tampa/St. Pete area are downright proud of their Potato Turbate.

  8. Well, they certainly don’t need to adopt this recipe at Catholic schools – some lunch breaks are after … school-wide Catholic-worship-services…I doubt that would appeal to the students.

  9. Mark says:

    I with you Brad. I am afraid I will go blind.

  10. MK says:

    Brad, I can hear you laughing from here. Sunday, remind me to sit behind you so I can whisper “Potato Tur-bait” during the sermon.

  11. Vrouw_Jonker says:

    Mmmmmm MMMM!!
    Mark, e-mail us privately with the unmentionable joke.
    Meat + Potatoes. What’s not to like? I’m with you, Sara. Food of the gods, mashed potatoes.
    But that Schmelig version… the tomato sauce combined with the name Schmelig just brings me to the verge of a hairball maneuver.

  12. RevJATB says:

    I wonder if she has created other delicacies?

    Schmelig étouffée?
    Schmelig kabobs?

    The possibilities are virtually endless.

  13. Ew. That’s nasty…Vrouw will certainly have some items to add to the Gallery of Regrettable Food.

    We need a picture of “Schmelig Turbate”

    AAAHHGG! I can’t believe I typed that out!!!

  14. Mark says:


    The joke was not funny. Really, I only made it for my own pleasure. 🙂


  15. derorgelmeister says:

    That reminds me of one of the dishes we had at LA School.

    Get ready:

    Mediterranean Ham Casserole.

    I think the recipe was 3 parts ham casserole to 1 part Mediterranean. I’m not really sure what made it Mediterrean; as far as I know, it was ham casserole with tomatoes and about four pounds of salt thrown in for good measure.

    That wasn’t even the worst thing they served, though.

  16. Brad says:

    {sigh} Derorgel…

    I pity you for not having been at LSMSA during the Reign of Valley. The glorious Mrs. Nena spared us the ravages of Wicked Mediterranean Ham Casserole. That just sounds heinous. We had Garden-Burger-and-Nacho-Thursday. And Valley cookies! Well, we’ll just say Hera and Zeus enjoyed them too. For the most part, it was nasty caf food, but it definitely had its high points…and I’ll wager nostalgia would make it taste better, too.

    So y’all had a very high point with the simply fantastic Dr. Pat Widhalm as your Executive Director (versus our nefarious Brother Dave Sinitiere – who did a lot for the image of the school to keep it open, but the students were really ruled with an iron fist), but your suffering lay in the departure of Mrs. Nena and Valley.

  17. PaulB says:

    Been outa town for a week. Apparently, Mark caught on to the middle school crowd nickname ready made for “Potato Turbate”.

    RevJATB: I wouldn’t think of mentioning that one in a sermon– I’m sure someone would hear what you think they would hear!

    The Auburn Univ. equivalent was a dish called “Maryland Turkey”.

  18. Sara says:

    oh wow, i still have a sense-memory of the taste of Valley nacho cheese sauce. oh, and the grits. so disgusting, but sooo good…

    it was no potato turbate, but in hindsight, i can’t believe i survived 2 years of life almost purely on Valley and the occasional cup o noodles without getting scurvy. no nutritional value whatsoever, that food.

  19. MK says:

    Ah yes, Valley food… shudder. Anyone else remember the theorized potato cycle? It started with baked potatoes, then the leftovers were cut into strips and fried, then served as french fries. Those leftovers were shreded, refried, and served as hash browns. Those leftovers were squished back together, refried, and served as tater tots. Those leftovers were smashed and served as mashed potatoes. Finally those leftovers were rolled together, burned, and served as baked potatoes. Repeat.

  20. Kurt K. says:

    This thread saved me tonight!! Wifey was gone, had to feed kids and only saw ground beef.Then came the fond memories of Potato Turbate at Largo Middle School. Thanks!!

  21. Donna Osborn says:

    I liked it too. I noticed all the comments were from Florida, where I grew up.
    In the ‘50s it was rich and meaty with cheese on top. Had with my students “once”! Standards had gone way down.👎

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