Confessions of a high school lunch lady
Sue Woolstenhulme has been the Park City High School (PCHS) lunch lady for 11 or 12 years, she said she can’t remember when she started, and that she doesn’t work because she has to, but she likes it.
School lunch isn’t just soggy french fries that taste like cardboard and lack nutritional value anymore. The Park City School District (PCSD) adheres to government standards that are created to ensure that students get nutritional food.
According to Sue Woolstenhulme, Park City High School (PCHS) food service manager, all school meals must meet National School Lunch standards. These guidelines require that each meal they serve must exceed a certain number of calories, while staying below a certain fat content. In order to meet these standards, all meals at PCHS are made with lowfat cheeses, lean meats, and whole wheat breads.Also, Woolstenhulme said that all of their foods are baked, "they may look fried and taste fried, but they aren’t."
Kristen Albrecht, a junior at PCHS said that the school lunch is a nice option to have because they only get 20 minutes for lunch and it’s hard to get to the juniors parking lot and go to town to eat somewhere else. Albrecht said she usually gets a bagel when she eats lunch at school.
Woolstenhulme invited anybody to come into PCHS and eat lunch with the students for $2.75. Woolstenhulme said that they feed a lot of teachers, district employees often come over for lunch, and they even get employees at local business in for lunch every once in a while.
The Park City School District gets their food from the government or from a subsidized wholesaler in Salt Lake City, Woolstenhulme explained. When they get their raw ingredients, they send it directly to a processing plant so it arrives at the PCHS kitchen in a ready, useable form. Food comes to PCHS in a "quicker, safer and easier to prepare form that tastes better," because of the processing plants. For example, all the beef comes to the PCHS kitchen already cooked so they don’t have to deal with the hazards of raw meet.
School lunch at the high school isn’t just grab a tray, wait in line, take what you get, and hope that it tastes good. Woolstenhulme explained that they have five kiosks: pizza and such, today’s special, garden spot, international, and grille. Between all the different stations, Woolstenhulme said that students have over 20 choices on any given day.
The Miner’s Diner, food court style approach to feeding teenagers is one of the ways that Woolstenhulme and her staff use packaging and presentation to appeal to students. At each of the kiosks, students are given a main course, side dish, milk and juice, fruit or vegetable, and a treat if it fits within the guidelines.
Woolstenhulme said that the district office prepares a menu, and her kitchen is responsible to serve the food to the students.
Woolstenhulme said, "the lunch lines are always full and busy," and explained that the year always starts off slow with the number of students eating at school because, "new students and sophomores are a little scared of school lunch," but she said this year has already started off busier than usual.
Families can qualify for free or reduced price lunch if their household income is at or below 185% of the national poverty level, if the family receives food stamps, benefits under the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, or the child benefits under the Utah’s Family Employment program, according to the Utah State Office of Education. Woolstenhulme said that most families filled out applications during registration, but if a family situation changes at any time, they can go to the district office and fill out the application which should take about a day to process.
Woolstenhulme said that one way they keep the cost of school lunch down is by paying very close attention to "shrinkage," or food that goes to waste. Woolstenhume explained that the challenge is that they don’t know how many students are going to eat school lunch each day, or what the students will choose. Woolstenhulme pointed out that many restaurants loose a lot of profit because of wasted food and one reason that school lunches are so inexpensive is that they find a way to waste very little food.
For vegetarians or students with special dietary needs, Woolstenhume said that her kitchen staff is very willing to accommodate the needs of each student. Woolstenhulme said that special requests such as a veggie sandwich, or general comments or suggestions are welcome, and she wants students to feel comfortable coming to them to with any comments or concerns. Also, PCHS is a peanut-free school to accommodate students with nut allergies.
Woolstenhulme said that students only get one break each day, and she and her staff want to be sure that students get what they need and have time to relax. According to Woolstenhulme, "the favorite is always the pizza" but other meals such as deli sandwiches, chicken sandwiches and Chinese food are popular.
Woolstenhulme said that she and her staff make an effort to develop a relationship with the students and learn their names. Woolstenhulme said that many of the students call her Mama Sue, and she gets mothers day cards, high school and college graduation announcements, wedding invitations, and just received a letter from a PCHS alumni fighting in Iraq.
Also, PCSD schools serve breakfast every day. Woolstenhulme explained that their breakfast only costs $1.50 and they have, "the whole spread of amazing choices." Woolstenhulme said that she thinks most families can’t go out and buy a breakfast for that amount of money that is nutritious and will leave students feeling full. She explained that it’s a great resource for busy families who may not have time to sit down for a decent breakfast every morning.
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