At our school this year, we do a “grab and go ” lunch in which students can grab a packaged hot lunch and take it home, or eat it in a classroom. We did this to avoid using the cafeteria due to COVID. To make sure students don’t get hungry earlier in the day, we give them a mid-day snack.
We discovered early on that some lunches were more popular than others: chicken nuggets and french fries? There would be a frenzy of students and not a single meal would be left over. Fish and green beans? We’d end up with 50 leftovers. (Unfortunately the healthier the lunch, the less popular it is. Luckily we had a teacher who took the leftovers to a food pantry where they were much appreciated.)
To get our lunch quantities right, I assigned myself the job of visiting the cafeteria kitchen every morning. I chat with the staff, learn what they’re serving, and then together, we make a lunch estimate so there’s minimal waste.
I love these daily morning visits: I say hello to Ivette, who is usually chopping vegetables or layering cheese onto sandwiches and has an opinion on whatever is being served. I wave at Rosie, then find Gabriel or Jose, who are my “go tos” for the lunch menu. Gabriel is usually putting sheet pans of carrots or fries into the oven, and I can tell his opinion of the menu before he says anything.
Sometimes he sees me and nods confidently, telling me right away: “French fries. And, um . . . chicken.” He looks expectantly and we both agree on the maximum number.
Other times, he holds up his hands as if to say, “Don’t blame me!” Recently, the strongest opinions are on Fridays. “It’s vegan Friday,” the staff reminds me with a suspicious side glance.
Some of the most delicious food– vegetable stir-fries, seasoned rice and beans– is actually made on vegan Fridays but it has yet to take off as a menu option. On any day, sweet potato fries do well but not as well as you’d think. Hamburgers do OK. Burritos win or lose, there doesn’t seem to be a pattern. Sometimes there’s a meal that looks home-cooled, like baked chicken thighs with fried plantains, and those are always popular.
This is a job I could easily delegate to someone else. It’s actually very silly that I don’t hand it over: I have staff who are already in the cafeteria in the morning greeting students, and any of them could do it easily.
Yet I don’t want to give this job away: I like the strong smells coming out of the kitchen, I like being reminded that lunch is being made by someone. The entire visit takes about 2 minutes yet it’s enough time to say hello and let people know their job is important. I guess that’s why I don’t delegate it– it’s an excuse to be with people who I could easily make invisible.