Saturday, October 22, 2011

Fondly Remembering Lunchlady Land

I have a confession to make. Some of you may never respect anything I say about food ever again, but this blog is all about honesty, so here goes: I really enjoy school lunch.

When you have finished scoffing at my confession, consider my justification. At school, you can go through the lunch line with your nicely sectioned-off tray and receive representation from each of the food groups (or food pyramid or whatever the current form is), choose your white or chocolate milk, douse it all in ketchup if you want, and have a mini-restaurant experience at the lunch table.

I was a brown-bag luncher for most of my school career, but every month when the new lunch menu came out, my mom would let us choose a few days that we could eat "hot lunch," and it was always supremely exciting. Do I want turkey and gravy day, or fiestada pizza day? The shoo-in was always Italian dunker day, arguably the best school-lunch day of the month, when the lines in the cafeteria stretched around the room as students clamored to get their cheesy bread and marinara sauce.

And I was the student that the lunch ladies liked to see coming: unless it was chow mein day, I swept through the lunch line with enthusiasm, took one of everything, and always brought an empty tray to the return window.

School lunch has changed dramatically since I was in junior high; many schools now have several choices or a salad bar or brand-name fast foods, and some are trying very hard to make lunches healthier. Maybe I am just a traditionalist, but I liked the days of chicken nuggets and french fries, with a scoop of canned corn, a roll and a cookie. In the first few years at my current job, I spent a lot of time at schools around the state, and thus a lot of time eating school lunch in teachers' lounges. I happily ate things I had not in years, like fruit cocktail and tater tots, and just like in junior high, I was a charter member of the clean plate club.

Earlier this week, I made Italian dunkers for my kids, and as my son used his cheesy bread as a vehicle for drinking the marinara sauce, I could not help but reminisce fondly about running from class at top speed to make it into the lunch line before the rest of the school so I could get my own dunkers. I loved Lunchlady Land, for where else could I get a chicken patty on a bun with as much mayonnaise as I wanted, an ice-cream scoop of mashed potatoes and pink applesauce for the bargain-basement price of two dollars? Nowhere else on earth.

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