Day in the Life of a Lunch Lady

Kim Magagnotti demonstrates how to use the dishwasher.

On Monday, January 14, I had the privilege to work alongside the ladies that make lunch happen here at the Redbank Valley High School.

While working, I was able to establish that each lunch lady had a different role in the kitchen. There was a Head Cook, Cook, Secretary/Cashier, Food Aid, four Food Handlers, and making the big decisions,  the Cafeteria Manager, David Reitz.

The head cook has many jobs and among them are helping prepare the food, planning, making sure everything is ready to use. When interviewing head cook, Cindy Kline, a lunch lady for 30 years, she clarified, “Pretty much, I’m responsible to make sure we run smoothly.” From my point of view, I saw her as a staff leader. She was able to supply me with all of the basic knowledge of a lunch lady’s duties and, even throughout our interview, her co-workers looked to her to tell them how to make some of the menu choices for that day. While watching her prepare that day’s food, I noticed that she not only made the food, but also put her whole heart into the process. Later I asked what the most challenging part of her job was.  She explained that estimating how much food each lunch period was going to eat.   The most enjoyable part of her work was interaction with the kids.

One very similar position is the cook. Her job is to help the head cook do all the baking, serving, and assisting in planning. Wendy Huffman, a dedicated cook for 27 years, talked about her job in such a positive way. Huffman said that what she liked best about her job was “working with coworkers.” You can thank Huffman for the kitchen’s famous cakes and cookies. Even the exceptional peanut butter icing that goes on top of the widely-loved Wacky Cake is homemade that morning.

Food handlers and aid are a majority of the workers, with a total count of 4 food handlers and 1 food aid out of 9. While interviewing Kim Magagnotti, she explained that a food handler’s duty includes daily tasks like serving the food to the students and rotating jobs like dishwasher and making side dishes. Watching these ladies work was one of the most inspiring scenes all day. They completed their duties with no complaints, adding a little heart into each task. Stepping in as a food-handler myself, I got to assist with some parts of their day like serving food  and washing dishes. I had my turn loading up trays, but it didn’t last long because I wasn’t fast enough with the number of trays coming in.  To me there was so much that needed to be done in a short amount of time, the food handlers were able to work quickly, efficiently, and seemed to enjoy the work and being with everyone.  “We are all very dedicated to providing the best for the students,”  said Magagnotti.

Our final two jobs include Secretary/Cashier and Cafeteria Manager. A Secretary/Cashier’s job is to accept all of the money when kids go through the line. You have probably seen Debbie Traister at the checkout using the NutriKids System, an online lunch payment program. What you don’t see is when she helps out reloading the milk, silverware and just helping when anyone needs her. Cafeteria Manager is like the CEO of the kitchen. Reitz’s job is to make all of the big decisions for the cafeteria, along with managing government reports. His job spans all cafeterias in our district, not just high school.

When looking back on my day as a Lunch lady, I realized I had an amazing opportunity and I am incredibly grateful, not just for the opportunity, but everything that these lunch ladies do for the school. Even I, who has an aunt in the kitchen, thought that most to all of the food came from the freezer or straight from the can. I could not have been more surprised when I learned that wasn’t the case at all. I am still in complete amazement of the effort and time put into just one day worth of lunches. I now have a brand new appreciation for what these ladies do every day for 180 days a year.