June 06, 2020

Unsung heroes: Those who prepare school lunches

DEXTER — Most pupils in SAD 46 will never know how many hours, weeks or months it takes to plan the meals that they take about 10 minutes to eat during the hot-lunch program each day.

But that’s OK with the people who put in those hours, the ones who say they aren’t looking for accolades or enthusiastic comments from their 700 customers.

“The biggest compliment we can get,” said Chris Sady, program director, “is if they eat what we have served that day. Then we know we’ve done our job.”

Sady said the biggest challenge in the job isn’t dealing with leftovers or ordering and cooking enough food for district students. The challenge is trying to find out what the students will eat. Lunches featuring pizza or hot dogs are always popular, but those can’t be served every day, so the staff must be creative in finding menus that are both nutritionally balanced and appealing to the students.

Sady said that menus are planned about a month ahead so that orders for the food can be placed. Each meal must meet federal guidelines that govern percentages of protein and carbohydrates in the food provided and specific numbers of servings offered each week.

Planning also must take into account the use of commodity food shipped to the district. The district also received a shipment of food from the Desert Storm program with the Desert Share food now being incorporated into district menus.

Detailed records of each day’s meal must be kept to show the government that all guidelines are being met.

Sady said monthly planning turns to weekly planning and then daily planning. Each morning, before most district students are out of bed, the kitchen crew is busy preparing that day’s meal. Breads, rolls and desserts are all homemade as are most of the entrees.

Each member of the kitchen team knows their job for that day and most can take the place of another if necessary. Estimates of the number of students who will be taking hot lunch that day are taken and then the group shifts into high gear in anticipation of the noon rush.

An a la carte menu also must be be prepared for those who prefer not to take hot lunches. Hamburgers, sandwiches and salads also are planned and prepared by the lunch crew. Sady said that in addition to hot lunches there are usually special meals that the kitchen staff is responsible for preparing. They prepare banquets for meetings or cold lunches for students taking field trips. Lunches for Headstart pupils also are prepared, as are breakfasts for district students.

That day’s hot lunch offering also must be prepared by about 10 a.m. each morning so that the meal can be shipped to district schools. Special consideration must be paid to the shipment of food because the food must be appealing to students after a 10-mile ride, Sady said.

During the time that some kitchen staff serves food others operate cash registers and others take turns doing dishes.

The kitchen team said that everything falls into place and the meal is always ready by the time the lunch line starts forming. Organization, preparation and team work are the key elements to each day’s hot lunch offering. Nancy Price is the kitchen manager.

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