Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Tales From The School Cafeteria: How I Love Thee, Cardboard Tray.

What do the following have in common?

• Bean Burritos
• Creamed Chicken on Rice
• Shredded Carrot and Raisin Salad
• Taco Casserole
• Fish Sticks

Besides all being foods that you may find in my purse on any given day, they're all things that I remember being served in the school cafeteria. If I sound wistful, I am - I'm one of the freakish few that actually liked what we were served by the hair-netted ladies in the white smocks. Of course, I like eating sardines out of the can and natto, Japanese fermented soybeans, so that says alot about me right there.

When The Parent Blogger's Network requested a post on "Tales From The School Cafeteria" I have to say it triggered only good, nostalgic memories for me. There may have been a few traumatic ones, for instance the time I asked for seconds on my Jell-O cup and was practically chased out with a meat cleaver, but for the most part I remember lunchtime being a bright spot in my day. I even worked in the cafeteria for a semester as a student volunteer, and along with receiving lots of free food, it definitely had a certain cachet to it - it's amazing how your popularity soars when your friends realize you can sneak an extra cinnamon bun out to them at recess.

My kids, now in elementary school, eat in their school's cafeteria almost every day. Where else can you get a hot meal for only a dollar? And while the other, overriding reason is that I'm essentially too damn lazy to make them a lunch every day, I think they're getting a decent balanced meal. Sure they lack on presentation - do they really have to serve their hamburgers on buns that look like they've been sitting under a stack of ten-pound weights? But I've studied the menus carefully and they always consist of a good sampling of the various food groups. Although the inclusion of nachos as a main course puzzles me, and on the days that's on the menu I always make sure I stop watching America's Top Model long enough to make them a sandwich.

And who are we kidding - our kids never their lunches anyways.

But there's another reasons I have a special place in my heart for the school cafeteria and the ladies (and let's face it, there are only cafeteria ladies - when was the last time you saw a man in there) who work long and hard to make sure hundreds of unruly kids get fed their pizza and cartons of milk.

My mother was one of those ladies. She worked for over twenty years in the busy cafeteria of an inner city middle school. Her paycheck put clothes on the backs and food on the table of five kids, especially helpful when my dad's business wasn't doing so well. She made lifelong friends there, a few that she sees regularly and others that she sees when they have their occasional reunions. And of course, she ate in the cafeteria every day that she worked behind that counter.

And now? My sprightly mom is 86 and in perfect health, with 20/20 vision and still drives a car. She works four days a week in her Senior Center, takes a computer class every Monday and always sees movies before me, since she goes out for 'movie & lunch' outings with her gaggle of girlfriends twice a month. Although I do have to admit it's a little disturbing when your elderly mother sees 'The 40-Year Old Virgin' before you and proceeds to tell you all about the waxing scene in detail.

Which leads me to believe that, say what you will about school cafeteria food but if my mom is any proof, it may just be the fountain of youth.

______

Check out these websites, that work together with School Food Services Directors, for helpful information regarding school lunches: School Menu, which has games for kids and an interesting feature that lets you download your school's lunch menu, and Family Everyday, which I found especially helpful for it's articles on nutrition and also recipes for making healthy lunches. It may just inspire me to get up and pack those sack lunches for my kids, afterall.

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9 comments:

Jess Riley said...

I used to have a love/hate relationship with my elementary school's cafeteria. We lived for the days featuring chicken patties, pizza, and the individual ice cream sundae cups. And I still remember the dessert for chili day: sugar-crusted donuts. Mmmmmm....

norabarnacle said...

Perhaps I should have traded the sack lunch for the pronto pup and tater tots more often. Ew. Or, maybe I should have gone to your school.

FabGirl said...

Did you ever have a day when the meal was a mystery casserole? We did and although I can't remember what the hell it was, I remember that those days were AWESOME. Oh, and the ice cream in tghe little cups with the cardboard lids? Beat that Ben & Jerry!

Jennifer said...

My post was sort of short for this mission, my brother was visiting from out of town this morning.

Your post is very good though. I always liked the lunch ladies at our schools so I have no idea how they got the reputation that they have. LOL....

NorCal Sistah said...

Geez ... something else we have in common. I love cafeteria food and I also worked at the school cafeteria in 6th Grade. My favorite day was Friday because it was "fudge brownie day"! Yum! And we, being cafeteria workers, could come at the end of the school day and pick up as many of the brownies that were left and take them home -- I was always very popular on those days.

Karen said...

You only pay A DOLLAR!???? Our lunches are $2.50. It's a sad state of affairs when you can buy a Lunchables at the grocery store for less than a school lunch! You have more blessings than you realized :)

JeSais said...

when I lived in Hawaii, not sure if it was true in ALL the schools, but the kids worked in the cafeteria. Sorta gave us a different perspective. It was hard work. And I had to wear a plastic shower cap on my head and plastic gloves.

And my mom made me lunch every day. I was so jealous of the kids who got school lunch. I never got to eat fish sticks. :-(

Blueyes said...

We brought lunch to school in brown baggies. I remember it clearly all the way up to high school until I got a job and started buying cheetos, a mr. goodbar and a dr. pepper for lunch everyday. Of course I was banned from one of the lunchrooms too because of a food fight. Man the good ole days when you could eat anything and still only weigh a buck 05.

Jay said...

I have never had any of those things you mentioned, and I never went to a school that had a cafeteria.

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