9 Things Your Lunch Lady Wishes You Knew

They served up your school lunch every day, but how much do you really know about your lunch lady?

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Pupils In School Cafeteria Being Served Lunch By Dinner Ladies

It’s Heavy Lifting

Being a lunch lady is hard work. Most of the food ingredients come in industrial sizes, like enormous cans of vegetables and fruits or huge bags of mixes, which means you have to be in pretty good shape to whip up a meal for a couple hundred students. Luckily, we’ve scaled down our favorite cafeteria copycat recipes.

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Grade school lunch tray with pizza with small carton of milk mac-n-cheese and green gelatin for dessert
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Pizza Is Just a Vehicle for Vegetables

Contrary to popular belief, Congress does not view pizza as a vegetable. However, tomato paste has historically been treated as one by school officials. Surprisingly, one-eighth of a cup of tomato paste is considered to have as much nutritional value as half a cup of vegetables. Because of this, pizza is a top pick for getting students their daily dose of veg. Up next: Read up on why nutritionists are saying that pizza is healthier than breakfast cereal.

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Professional kitchen , view counter in stainless steel
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The Kitchen Is Spotless

School kitchens have very rigorous cleaning schedules. Every surface is sanitized multiple times a day, and lunch personnel wash their hands constantly. They also adhere to strict guidelines concerning food temperatures and food safety. All that to say, their kitchen is definitely cleaner than yours.

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Corporate business team and manager in a meeting
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Lunch Ladies Don’t Make the Menu

While this may seem like a “I don’t make the rules” kind of excuse, it’s actually true. Lunches are strictly scheduled by the lunch planner of the school or district, and lunch ladies have very little control over what’s being served on the trays that day. Can you imagine meal planning for hundreds of kids, every single day? Start small with these 14 tips on meal planning for your own family.

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Donate food to hungry people, Concept of poverty and hunger

Extra Food Is Often Donated to Charities

Many schools have programs set up with local food banks or homeless shelters. Any leftover pans of food get frozen to be picked up in the evening and brought to those in need. If you want to make a difference with your dollar, buy from these companies—they give back to their communities in a big way.

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Girl and other kids at the fruit buffet at the cafeteria in elementary school
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They’ll Sometimes Give the Food a Makeover

Lunch ladies have all kinds of tricks to make food look more appetizing, like cutting vegetables into fun shapes, or “blushing the pears” by sprinkling a little powdered jello on top (and that’s not the only genius gelatin trick). Anything to stop food from ending up in the trash!

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buffet female worker servicing food in cafeteria
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They Eat the Food, Too!

Cooks working in school kitchens usually get one free meal as a perk of the job. And for most, they say the food is pretty tasty. Ready to reminisce? Here are the trustiest recipes we learned in home ec.

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Students sitting at cafeteria table eating lunch with teacher
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They Want Parents to Come to Lunch

People who work in cafeterias see the whole social scene of the school, and they believe that if you really want to know what your kid’s school is like, you should come to lunch. They’d be happy to serve you, too. Just remember to call the school administrator ahead of time to get the go-ahead.

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Dinner lady serving kids in a school cafeteria, side view
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They Really Love Their Jobs

Unlike the cartoon, cranky lunch lady you see on TV, most people working for student lunches do it because they enjoy interacting with the students. It’s the reason they get up and go to work! Some cafeteria workers even become close with the students and their families and see them grow up and have families of their own.

Looking for more job secrets? These are seven things you only learn by working at Costco.

Maggie Ward
Maggie’s background in the arts gave her a penchant for collaborative communication and the pursuit of conveying ideas in a clear, striking way. Outside of writing for Taste of Home, Maggie loves playing the piano and writing music, as well as performing with various bands and theatre productions around the city of Chicago.