Food Review: School Lunch


Olivia Eldridge

“School food is gross.” 

“Chicken stuff is nasty, but the nachos are good.”

“The pizza is usually fine, unless you can visibly see it’s sloppy.”

“Fries are almost always undercooked, and when they aren’t, they are overcooked.”

“It’s solid. I mean, they’re providing free food for hundreds of growing teens —  it’s not gonna be gourmet!”

“Chicken nuggets look like chicken strips, fries taste like tater tots, and chicken nuggets bounce back when you throw them.”

Here at Lakota West, the school lunch is a popular topic of conversation. And during these conversations, about 75% of students agree the school should provide better food. I have always wondered what they make the food with. I thought they would buy frozen foods, like Tyson chicken nuggets, and heat them up in a microwave or something. I mean not everyone can be like Wendy’s. #FreshNeverFrozen However, I was wrong. 

I went and interviewed the head of our cafeteria, Dina Schafer. She states that she does “not have any control on making them better.”  First and foremost, “Schools have to follow the USDA dietary guidelines to ensure healthy meals. They require components and key nutrients, such as fruits proteins.  Not only do we have to offer these key nutrients but also we need to make sure the correct calorie intake is correct. Calories are different in the primary schools as they are for the junior or senior high schools. A first grader does not need as many calories as a 7th or 8th grader nor does a 7th and 8th grader need more calories than a 10, 11, and 12th grader. So when [a student] asks for more gravy, by guidelines we are not allowed to give extra due to calorie count and grade level.”

It is the  The Lakota Child Nutrition Department Supervisors and Purchasing Supervisor who decides what will be served in the cafeteria.  “The USDA guidelines are used to prepare a five week rotating menu on what specific foods are going to be served and prepared.. The purchasing agent must make sure that the specific food needed is available to purchase throughout the school year. She communicated with each purveyor to ensure the product comes in correctly and on time. That is the most challenging part of her job this year especially due to COVID. Supply and demand does not always work the way we would like it to.”


Additionally, I had to ask about a constant concern for us students — the french fry.  This process to produce fries daily is extremely time and labor intensive.

  • Everyday,  13 cases of fries are panned up (78 trays) daily. (1092 servings a day!)
  • Place fries in Cres Cores starting at 9:30 am to be served at 10:30.
  • Fries take 40 minutes to bake and then they stay in a holding time until they are served.
  • At 10:10 am fries are movedfrom the Cres Cores and delivered to each station and begin bagging.
  • 10:15 we are loading the Cres Cores again for another 40 minutes for B lunch
  • Meanwhile we serve all the first batch.
  • Half way thru the baking time all trays of fries are shaken to make sure they are not bunching up.
  • Time to remove the second batch deliver them and add the third batch into the Cres Cores for C lunch.
  • Same process bag, serve and load
  • Third batch is finished. Deliver, bag, serve and load.
  • Lunch is over time to refill the small freezer for fries to be loaded for the next day.
  • Clean up which is scrubbing each Cres Core which take about 20 minutes for each one.

As you can see we are moving the fries at least 8-10 times for each batch. It takes 3 employees to do this process daily. The cleanup is not fun at all either. Very labor intensive, time consuming and exhausting. We used to do this five times a week and with the shortage of staff it got a bit too much.

Tuesday’s have become NO FRY TUESDAY since we are offering a potato and it is giving the staff a break.

And making the food overall is a huge task as well.

Preparation begins each morning at 5:30 am and continues to 2:00 pm.

  • Ovens (4) are used for the pizza. An average day is 35 pizzas baking for 12 – 15 minutes. 
  • Two Combi’s are used for steam/ bake products such as taco meat (35# a day), nacho cheese, vegetables, main dish items for the daily menu, chicken patties and burgers. 
  • 45 deli wraps are made daily. Deli meat is cut and weighed plus all the fixings for deli and taco bar are prepared. 
  • Tuesday’s mashed potatoes are made with a big industrial mixer. We are averaging about 600 servings of mash potatoes with the Mashed Potato Bowl.

Additionally, Ms. Schafer noted many challenges faced these past two years due to Covid and that all students are eating for free. Our lunch numbers have increased tremendously. 

“Serving healthy meals this year has been very challenging for many reasons. Purveyors are running out of certain products and in order to replace that particular item another healthy choice needs to be found. This is not easy for the Purchasing Supervisor to hunt these items down. As you all know we are out of many of your favorites and to hope to see these items again.”

“Another challenge is staffing. Lakota Local Schools has 22 buildings that provide meals and we only have 2 subs! This is a struggle for all managers when someone is absent. It definitely changes the dynamics of each kitchen in prepping, cooking, serving and cleaning.

“The last challenge is to stay healthy, stay focused and keep morale up with our staff and students!”

The Lakota West Child Nutrition Staff would like to thank the students for their patience, kindness and understanding, and MANY thanks to the teachers and staff for sending your students down at the correct time. To Mr. Brown, the administrator team, Officer Newman, Rose, the two Boldin Coaches, and Basketball Coaches for helping us out by cleaning all the tables in between lines. To the custodians that clean the kitchen once we are gone. We know you are understaffed but we appreciate your hard work to make our work place clean each day.

Needless to say it takes a School to Make School Lunches a Success!

The lunch food might be gross sometimes. But let’s give the ladies a break. They are trying their best. By the way, if you dip your food in the “hot” sauce, it will taste better.