Open thread: Dishes and cutlery

There was a lot of commentary on my Spork post about the lack of silverware in school cafeterias. I think we all agree that we need to bring back real spoons and forks. But some readers were shocked that I oppose knives in the cafeteria. I find that funny because I do believe that knives are not appropriate.

Although it’s true that forks and sporks are pointier in some cases, for some kids “knife” is a loaded word. There are students with an emotional or behavior disorder who have difficulty with self-control and regulation of emotion. Have you ever had a student attack their parent on school grounds with an object? That’s just one example. Oh, I have stories!

Let’s go back to trays and plates. Divided trays? Flat trays? Plates on trays? Multiple small plates? One large plate?

What do you think?

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63 thoughts on “Open thread: Dishes and cutlery

  1. For everyone saying that butter knives aren't dangerous, they can be given to kids, etc…

    It is entirely possible to injure oneself, or another, with a butter knife–even plastic ones. I was in a mental hospital for most of my senior year of high school for attempted suicide and a myriad of mental disorders/problems, including self injury. While I used to prefer burning myself, not cutting, you take what you can get. So I, and others, would smuggle out the "safe" plastic cutlery and cut ourselves.

    While some kids can be perfectly fine and safe using real cutlery, and plastic knives, there are a lot who can't–especially if you live in an area where violance is the norm.

    I have no real opinion on the issue, but I wanted to put that out there.

  2. I won't go into the knife discussion (although we have knives in our caf here in Brasil for all ages starting with 1st grade).

    In my EL I remember having those old plastic divided trays and once a semester each 4th and 5th grader would have slop duty, which was scraping off the left over food on them into big cans that were then disposed of. The trays got sent to the kitchen to wash. My EL wasn't very big (only about 75 kids per grade I think) so the system worked just fine. In HS we had styrofoam trays and I quickly stopped eating lunch at school at that time due to the wait time in the line.

    In our school here in Brasil, we have metal plates for the preschoolers and real silverware and those who wait in the regular line use glass plates, metal cups and real silverware, including knives. There are plastic trays to stack things onto should you choose. We have a kitchen staff of about 15 people who cook and clean up after all this and who are quite spectacular (including 2 or 3 nutritionists I believe) .

    I would not trade our lunches for anything, they are amazing.

  3. I absolutely agree that we should go back to trays and real silverware. It will help the kids deal with real dishes and it will help our planet.

  4. Frogfarm – I couldnt agree with you more about teaching children and not treating them as babies their whole lives. Ahh common ground 🙂
    B3 – thank you for pointing out the environmental aspect of this issue.

    Traditionally in my independent school food service operations we have used stainless steel forks, spoons AND knives for all ages K-12 (It has never been an issue in 35 years.) We also used a china plate and a plastic tray. But the desire to be a cleaner, greener operation has gotten us to go "trayless." The students just get their plate of food and utensils (rather civilized, if you ask me.) There were initial concerns that going "trayless" would be dangerous, cause more spills, etc. But it ended up just find. A major plus has been that food waste as decreased. Students and staff no longer load up their trays with excess amounts food (the good ole "eyes bigger that belly concept")

  5. Our school has the heavy duty plastic compartment trays and we use stainless steel forks, spoons and knives. The trays have gone through three generations of kids amazing how strong they are. The new ones that get purchased break when dropped just right on the floor.

    Anonymous April 3, at 11:12 I hope your life is better now. Have you been to the website To Write Love On Her Arms?
    Mrs. S

  6. We had divided plastic trays and real forks, spoons and knives, when I was in elementary school about three decades ago. The flatware was placed out in containers for us to take, and we generally only grabbed a knife if we needed it. The idea of being made to spread butter with a spoon is, to me, somewhat asinine. As an adult that would frustrate and irritate me as an unnecessary hassle. In my experience, children tend to be even more easily frustrated by these things, especially as their motor skills are still developing.

    We had students with behavioral and emotional issues then, as well. My school district was also one with a lot of overcrowding issues, before that was a common thing. Most of my school years involved class sizes of at least 30 kids. When students were considered a risk or acted out, they had an aide, teacher, or even school counselor that would sit with them. I can safely say that in my 13 years of schooling, there was not a single butter-knife related injury in any of my schools. The butter-knives that were used were less dangerous, really, than the scissors passed out for any classroom art project.

    I have spent a lot of time volunteering at my daughter's school. They actually have a cafeteria aide whose job it is to walk around and help out (as well as monitor) the different grades as they eat. From what I have seen, mostly this consists of opening milk cartons and ketchup packets and providing extra napkins. There is little or no help or instruction for doing things themselves, and most of the time things are just done for them.

    "Knife" becoming a loaded word when applied to the concept of the dull, round things we were given in school is, I think, because we make it one. We treat our children as if they cannot be trusted at all. We infantilize our children (and teens), while at the same time seeming to assume they are all violent criminals just waiting for a chance to strike. We act as if they cannot be trusted to somehow not hurt themselves or those around them at every opportunity, and as if they are incapable of any impulse control. We seem obsessed with protecting them, even from themselves.

    On of the main things I have been called in to help with, in my daughter's classes, is helping to supervise special activities and even art classes where there are kids who are "a bit of a handful". The teachers find their hands tied when dealing with them, and without extra help the whole class ends up suffering for the extra time and attention they require. Sometimes, these are children with developmental issues. A lot of the time, though, they are just children who act out because they can. A butter-knife might seem like a minor thing to debate, but I think the underlying issue is a bigger one. If we keep telling kids that we cannot trust them with something as simple as flatware, we are giving them the message that we don't expect them to be capable of being responsible for their actions.

    And then, of course, we wonder why we end up with a generation of kids who can't do anything for themselves and seem incapable of taking responsibility for their actions.

  7. Ugh, this knife discussion just reminds me of my senior year of high school… which was 1999. The year of the Columbine shooting. Suddenly students in school were all seen as dangerous and possible murderers. Schools started doing things like taking out lockers (because we could hide weapons in them… but the textbooks didn't get smaller… so students started getting back problems), making us use only clear plastic or mesh bags so they could see if we had weapons in them, using metal detectors, giving us pat-down searches, hassling all the goth kids with Marilyn Manson T-shirts in case they're possible murderers…

    I'm glad it was my senior year and I was almost out.

    I don't know anything about psychology, but I wonder if treating kids like they're already criminals makes them more likely to go ahead and BE criminals. What if you treated them like human beings? Would they end up acting more like human beings? When I was in high school, I always appreciated any teachers who treated me like a respectable human being, but they were few and far between. I personally was well-behaved anyway, but I really understood the resentment many of my peers felt. None of us had killed anybody, but now it was like we were all under suspicion.

    What if we just did an experiment where school kids were fed real food with real flatware (including table knives) and dishes and generally treated them like respectable human beings instead of prisoners or criminals? What would happen?

    Now that I think of it… do prisoners in jail get table knives?

  8. I'm from Germany (my English may be a bit – odd?) and reading you're blog I noticed, we're living in luxury (at least in Bavaria, because education is a federal issue). In our cafeteria we're using real silverwear, including knifes (which aren't even able to cut cold water), real ceramic plates – not departet, as there are no departet plates in the "real life" and for salads or dessert little ceramic bowls. Using a tray you don't need departed plates (and they are somehow a symbol of jail- or hospital-food.) Our kitchen is only thawing the food they are delivered and adding fresh parts – fruit and/or vegetables. Our 900 students (they are not all eating at school) are 11 to 19 years old and I think, there's about one plate broken every day and zero students attacked by the devilish knifes of doom.
    People do not attack others, because they are able to, they attack, because they want to. Considering this you would have to teach them all at home to make sure, they don't get hurt.

    Plastic cutlery isn't less dangerous. I rembember a 2-hour-date with my dentist after having broken a plastic knife, chewing thoughtlessly on it. Imagine what pritty things you could do to your classmate with a professionally manipulated platic-knife. Additionally it is more "green" not to produce that much plastic waste.

    Where the stolen silverwear goes is easy to tell. I own a great selection of it.
    Bringing my own food, I forgot often to bring a fork or spoon and afterwards forgot that I only lent it from the cafeteria (and another explanation is Uri-Geller-Hysteria leading to spoon-experiments).
    20 Minutes are way to short for lunch! We get 35 minutes (ok, it's official 30) and sometimes people still complain!
    Another good idea at our cafeteria is a jug (made of glass) of water on every table – no pseudo-juice-sugar-drink – and avoiding waste again. Those jugs are fascinating – I dropped one several times and it still didn't break (but left marks on the ground).

  9. The German gentleman above me has a similiar experience to me. Though it should be noted I went to an independent school, when we opted for a cooked lunch we were given hard, reusable plastic plates, real china and cutlery, and water jugs on the tables.

    The idea that children shouldn't be given table knives is, to me, quite frankly astonishing. A table knife is not a weapon in any sense. Do American schools ban scissors, compasses, sharp pencils, woodworking and metalworking tools as well?

  10. Wow, I never thought about the silverware debate until it was mentioned on Jamie's show. I always had real silverware, including butter knives, from elementary on up (started kindergarten in 1979).

    In adulthood, I've worked for nearly a dozen residential treatment facilities for both kids and adults with mental health problems. Every single facility used real plates and real silverware. Better-behaved clients helped in the kitchen (using actual sharp knives! OMG!) Those on suicide watch or at risk for injuring others ate separately with a tech or counselor, sometimes got a styrofoam tray and a spork for a few days if needed.

    Like others, I was attacked with sharp pencils, books, various small objects… but only a knife once, and it was an adult who had stopped taking his schizophrenia meds and grabbed the closest object. It could just as easily have been a pencil or a Lego.

  11. I am just rereading this post and I NEED to comment. I went to a small periocial school where we had hard trays and stainless steel forks, knifes, and spoons at every meal. I really have to say I enjoyed most lunches at my school and looked forward to the days when we would have cheeseburgers or breakfast sandwiches! 😀

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