Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Would you work as a lunch lady?

 Last week, I had the opportunity to spend time in a high school cafeteria kitchen. Along with some other moms, I’ve been working on trying to improve the somewhat dismal state of my daughter’s elementary school lunch program (a battle that I will recount on another day). As part of our fact-finding tour, we decided to visit the high school cafeteria, which has an overall better reputation than the elementary school.
Besides touring the kitchen and sampling their new whole grain salads, we got to meet the amazing and energetic woman who runs the cafeteria. She’s basically what you want in someone who runs the place that feeds your kids: funny, take-charge, energetic, knows her way around a kitchen. In this case, a large industrial kitchen with like one outlet for all of the appliances. When I mentioned the obvious design flaws the boss said, “that’s because it was designed by a man”.
I can go on and on about what we learned regarding the demands and challenges of public school cafeteria cooking, but one of the more interesting points that our host mentioned was that she can’t find anyone to fill the part time lunch lady slots. They are completely desperate for someone who can pitch in on all front-cooking, serving, prepping—but they got no takers. I was surprised because I frequently hear how many moms want to dip back into the workforce and this is basically a stay-at-home parent-with-older-kids dream schedule: 9 to 2.

So why aren’t these positions getting filled?

I can only answer that question by asking it of myself: Would I ever work as a lunch lady?

Put my money where my mouth is, so to speak, and actually strap on a hair net and get in the school lunch trenches? It’s one thing to go about ranting how the processed food needs to go, the kids need more time to eat, the food has to be prepared with more care…but it’s another to actually live it and work it.

Something is keeping people away (at least in our town). Maybe there’s still a stigma (see Chris Farley above) of the role of the sloppy joe flinging lunch lady stationed behind a sneeze guard? Maybe its because your kids would be mortified to see you waving at them from above a steam table? And then there are the outfits…there are few things less sexy than the mileu and wardrobe of the cafeteria matron.

But maybe it’s time to reverse the snobism. What do you think? Should I take a job as a lunch lady sub? Would you?

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