Lunch "ladies"

I want to reiterate that I really like the lunch “ladies” at my school. These are hard-working women and men doing their job every single day. The quality of the lunches is something completely out of their control.

I worked in the dishroom of my dorm cafeteria my first year of college. It was hot and smelly work standing in the spray of an industrial dishwasher. Shifts started early and you had to wear uniforms and hairnets. I was usually half-awake. Every day I would go back to my dorm room and smell like grease or fast food or…I couldn’t put my finger on what exactly, but if you ever worked in food service, you know that smell. The unwritten rule is that you MUST go home and shower after your shift is over. It’s not enough to take off your uniform!

I had a lot of fun in that job because the other employees were college students and we got to socialize during our shifts. I made some good friends. I also knew it was not my lifetime vocation.

The women and men working in the lunch room have to put up with similar conditions as I did, but they do it year after year. There’s a lot of heavy-lifting, smelly food garbage, and messes made by the children. I’d like to point out that the cafeteria and what I’ve since of kitchen are exceptionally clean. It’s a credit to these devoted professionals.

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21 thoughts on “Lunch "ladies"

  1. Working in food service is not easy! I could only take about 2 months of working at Dunkin Donuts in high school. Props to those working in "Lunch Lady Land."

  2. I tell kids that the value of education is that you can get a job you shower before instead of after.

  3. I absolutely love what you are doing and love what you have been sharing on your blog. I first came to your blog by reading your interview with the Small Bites author and let me say this is fantastic. I am a recent college graduate with a degree in Nutrition and through my studies I found a passion for changing the meals that are served in school cafeterias. What I have found in my own life is the meals are served are devoid of real nutrition and "good for you" foods. As you have said in your blog posts the meals many children are served at school is the only meal they will get for the day or at least the most substantial meal of their day. I do no see why this meal cannot be their most nutritionally sound meal. It is appalling.

    I look forward to more posts and your adventures in school lunch gastronomy.

  4. I've been trying to understand what needs to change to get schools to replicate what I'm doing at the college level…seems a big piece of this is that there is no actual cooking equipment in many schools and no (decently-paid) trained professionals, so the food can only be brought in and re-heated. Would be interested to know what the facilities are like at your school.

  5. I was going to comment just how cafeteria workers' jobs have changed in the past 20-30 years. These workers used to be actual cooks who planned and lunches by following recipes. Now it seems that they basically only reheat frozen dinners, heating canned vegetables. Even dishwashing is almost out of the picture with disposable trays/plates and plastic utensils.

  6. I love your reflection on school lunches as well as the pictures and "reviews." It gives context and shows your sensitivity to the issue. I think people get so caught up in food politics that they forget about what it's like to grow up eating school lunches or work as a "lunch lady." I'll keep reading!

  7. I love what you're doing here. Please keep it up and hopefully some change will come from you're hard work. I know exactly the "smell" you are talking about. Sort of like old salad dressing, yeast, and spoiled milk. Immediately brought back memories of the college dining hall kitchen.

  8. I believe that everyone should work in food service at some point in their lives! It's eye opening. Thanks for all the sweet comments!

  9. Not to take away any respect for the lunch ladies, but what do they even DO anymore? Just run a giant microwave? It looks like they don't have any dishes to wash since everything at your cafeteria is disposable, but I guess they probably have to empty the garbage a lot.

    When I was a kid, my lunch ladies would open cans and dump them into metal warming trays, and would bake frozen pizzas and chicken nuggets in big ovens, scoop things up onto your plates, and of course wash up the dishes. Oh, and they had a cash register that made change too! I even remember that the non-reduced price was $1.85.

    It's ironic that my mom complained about how when she was a kid, the lunch ladies actually made food from scratch and didn't open cans and reheat frozen stuff. She ought to see how "streamlined" school cafeterias are now! They must be really working to cut down the labor costs. Perhaps lunch ladies are a thing of the past. Might as well just have automatic vending machines.

    I agree that everyone should work in food service at least once in their lives, though it will certainly put you off whatever kind of food they serve there, at least for a few years.

  10. Thank you for your sympathic entry on school lunch "ladies" and "guys". As someone involved in education, I know how hard these individuals work each day. The job is not as easy as microwaving food. They must meet strict regulations set by the government while trying to balance students desire for fast food tastes. In many locations, the school buildings are old with outdated kitchens. In some schools, the cafeteria does not have a kitchen! The school lunch program is a very complex operation that runs a shoestring budget. The fact that the program is underfunded doesn't help, either. Thank you to these dedicated women and men.

  11. As a fellow teacher and a former college food service worker, I find your blog enlightening. I am very greatful to my school's lunch ladies. Just yesterday, I was greeted to an aroma of fresh baked brownies. Those ladies in my school rock. They also bake rolls from scratch. Now, we do have some "misses" but the food is soooo much better than what your school does. FYI I work in a middle to low income school.

  12. Just tripped over your blog, but I'm going to make it a regular stop now.

    My mom was a lunch lady for many years, well after us kids were out of school. I remember her frustration and outright anger over what was being fed to the students. She was even more frustrated at the limitations being placed on the system due to kids with allergy lists as long as your arm. And the lunch ladies were made responsible to remember each child's restrictions!

    I don't think our local school system has gotten to the point of pre-packaged and nuked that yours has. Mom was still making/reheating soup, maing rolls, and they were trying to use fresh when they could.

    I look forward to seeing where your journey takes you. 🙂

  13. This is really great, and I highly recommend you set up a permanent link to it on the side of your blog.

    I think a lot of people will come to this blog, and if they come in late they might not see this and know the respect you have for the people working in the lunchroom.

    Sadly, a lot of people would prefer to pretend you hate lunch "ladies," because then they don't have to address the problem of not valuing our children's health enough to pay for decent food for them.

  14. Hi! Thank you for your efforts and concerns about school food.
    I only read the blog entries listed on the first page, but not the older posts. I only saw that you wrote about how the food tastes and whether you ate it. Are you going to write about how it makes you feel emotionally and physically? How your brain functions afterwards? Weight loss/gain?

    This month's Self magazine recommends eating fruits and veggies to be smarter. "People who ate about five servings of produce daily scored better on memory tests than those who ate fewer."
    I saw that you had some similar research cited. Great!

    I feel sorry for you, because that "food" is detrimental to your health. When you finish your project I recommend consuming all raw foods (fruit, veg, nuts, and seeds) for at least 30 days to know what OPTIMAL health looks and feels like. You are guaranteed to have a ton of energy, clear mind, clear skin, weight loss(if desired), and prevention or healing from diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. If you need to learn how to go raw and more info, just view videos on YouTube, search the web, or join a detox class.

    I hope your project is successful and that you keep writing to get the word out!!!

    Peace n love

  15. First, I want to say that I commend you on what you are doing. I really hope it helps to get the word out there that school lunches need to be healthy for the kids. If the school district can't afford it, then D.C. should help them out with that. As you have said, this is the only or best meal that some of these kids have all day.

    That being said, I also think that the lunch "ladies" deserve a big round of applause. My kids usually bring a lunch, but I do know that the cafeteria workers do a great job taking care of my kids and serving them and their friends with a smile on their face.

    Thank you for this project. I can't wait to read more!

  16. I'm going to be following this with great interest. My wife and I often complain that the school cafeterias are basically giant vending machines.
    There was a story a few years ago about a school ( an alternative school for the problem high schoolers) that switched to an all organic menu with fresh food and no sugar. It was a huge success and they did it with the same budget as the garbage food. If I find any info I'll post it…

  17. Those of us that work in the foodservice industry are curious. Could you find out who is making the food for your school district? Is a company that provide prepackaged meals? You don't need to tell us the name of the company, but knowing how and where the food is prepared would give us some context. Is the food prepared locally and shipped to the school, or is the food produced far away, frozen, and shipped to a warehouse before going to your school.



  18. I have been working in a kitchen at a school for about five years. I and my team love being there for the kids and preparing them hot and fresh food everyday, with a smile on are face. We work very hard, we are not just heating food in a microwave we cook everything fresh everyday, and we do not use disposable lunch tray we wash everything in the dishwasher. I do think that everyone should work in food service it is very hard work. I know that we are look down on because people do think that all we do is cook frozen and processed foods, but that is just not true. I go to work everyday with a smile on my face and I can say that I love my job and the childern that I see everyday. Not a lot of people can say that….

  19. I adore this post! As a food service provider and one who was born and raise into the food business, I know first hand what kind of work it is. But I will say that working with school food is exciting and motivating, especially in today's climate. The poster above me is correct. There are a lot of people out there making big positive strides in school food service. The tide is turning.

  20. Did you go to Smith? The first years who worked – often worked in the house kitchens. The food there (and at almost every institution I attended) certainly looked better than what you're showing here. It's very scary.

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