I remember back when I was in elementary school, being rushed through the lunch line to make my selection and keep moving. The ladies behind the counter wearing their hairnets and rubber gloves were not the most pleasant to deal with. To a youngin’ like me, I just figured they were cranky from being in the hot kitchen all day.
Fast forward more than 30 years, and I found myself visiting my son at his elementary school for lunch. He proudly grabbed his lunch tag from his classroom cubby and followed the leader to the lunchroom. He lined up for a choice of a turkey meatball sub or mandarin chicken and rice. He was so excited it was meatball sub day! These things are a big deal when you’re 6. When he noticed they were out of the sub, he shot me a disappointed look. I told him to ask the lady to see if there were more in the back. He immediately had a look of fear on his face. He told me he’s not allowed to ask for things and must take what is there. I said that’s ridiculous; they just ran out and probably have more in the back, right?
I glanced over to the other side of the cafeteria, as there are two lines for kids. I noticed they had subs on that side and pointed in that direction. He again told me he could not get out of this line and would get in trouble if he went over there. What?!? Why are there so many rules at lunch? The kid is hungry, and isn’t the purpose of having a menu so you can have options? How many kids go hungry and don’t eat because they are afraid to ask for the lunch they want?
I thought maybe he was exaggerating, so I asked the lunch lady if she had anymore meatball subs. She quickly put me in my place exactly as my son described. For a second, I felt like I was in that Seinfeld episode with the gruff Soup Nazi yelling at me, “No sub for you!” No wonder he comes home after school starving some days even though I know he would have eaten what was offered on the menu that day.
Still in shock, we move a few steps forward to pick a side item. My son touched the little bowl of peaches but then changed his mind and reached for the peas. Wrong move! The lunch lady immediately snapped at him to take the first thing he touched and to keep his hands off the others. I was standing right there, and that still had no impact on her approach with these kids. I get the whole germ thing and kids’ hands are not the cleanest, but he didn’t touch the actual food. His thumb barely even grazed the bowl, but I guess that was close enough. So, there we were, with a side of unwanted peaches on his lonely tray.
If I didn’t see this in person myself, I may not have believed it. Why does it have to be this way? We are talking about kids as young as 5 just trying to get a lunch they like and will actually eat. It’s hard enough sometimes to get kids to eat! So please, give them what they ask for if it’s available.
Now when my son sees something on the school menu he will eat and wants for lunch that day, I am hesitant to send him back into the lunch line. I’ve started packing his lunch, so he doesn’t have to interact with the mean lunch ladies.
I realize it’s not the most glamorous job in the world, but the kids shouldn’t have to suffer or be punished for wanting to eat. Lighten up, lunch ladies.
Has anyone else had this experience with your school’s lunch workers?