The only advice I received was that I might want to wear tennis shoes. I guess everyone assumed that I would find it easy to spend three hours serving lunch at Monocacy Elementary School. Well, they were wrong.
I was partnered with a veteran Food & Nutrition Services worker with over 30 years of experience, Ms. Kate, who graciously taught me the basics. You need to wear a hair net or cap, gloves, and an apron. Every component of the meal has to adhere to a specific serving size. The food must be maintained at a certain temperature for a certain period of time. And of course, I was told the options available for the day so I could inform any student with a question.
It sounded so simple. And then the first class arrived. The pace was so fast. And I had so many questions! How do you get the gravy to fit neatly over the potatoes and not flow into the other compartment of the tray? How am I supposed to refill the chicken nuggets without slowing down the whole line? How do you manage to remember all of the students’ names? Where can I find another slice of pizza?
Fortunately, students help keep things moving because they generally know just what they want, even if they don’t know the exact names of their favorite items. One colleague shared a story about a very young student who usually requests the “yellow chicken balls” (chicken nuggets), “flat yellow chicken ball” (chicken patty), or a “chicken with a ball with a bone” (chicken drumstick) almost every day.
But to serve all our students efficiently, teamwork is essential on the serving line!
We had 5 minutes between classes, and Ms. Kate did not waste a minute. We refilled our serving trays, stacked the next set of student trays, and she even started to load the dishwasher. And then, the cycle began again. The time passed quickly, but I now realized the job was far more physically demanding than I had realized. The tennis shoes were definitely a good idea!
I have braved the serving line two more times in recent years. And each time I am filled with admiration for the work these amazing men and women do. Efficiency is apparent. A strong work ethic is essential. And a genuine enjoyment of interacting with the students is obvious. There is also comradery among the team, and some amusing and touching stories of their experiences from the Food & Nutrition Services worker who was told that she reminded students of their grandmother (in a nice way!), to the student who would sing a little song about her day for the staff in the cafeteria.
Every day, FCPS serves more than 6,000 breakfasts and almost 13,000 lunches. That’s a monumental task. And so, a special thank you to all of our Food & Nutrition Services staff in FCPS. Students who eat well, learn well. You make a difference!
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