Inside the Jonesboro Cafeteria: Bringing in the Money with Familiar Foods
Deborah Lehmann is an editor of School Lunch Talk, a blog about school food. She is currently studying economics and public policy at Brown University.
A few months ago, Hester Dye received boxes of beautiful, plump blackberries from the USDA. She was delighted the berries were as big as her thumb and she hoped her students would enjoy eating them for lunch.
But the kids in Jonesboro Public Schools, where Dye directs the school lunch program, didnt touch the berries. Determined not to let the fruit go to waste, Dye and her staff made a blackberry cobbler. Still, half of it ended up in the trash. They didnt know what it was, Dye said. They werent familiar with it.
Students familiarity with certain foods has always driven Dyes menu. When she started working in the Jonesboro cafeteria 37 years ago, students ate home-cooked meals with their families, and thats what they expected for lunch at school. Dye served soup, lasagna and meatloaf, because thats what students were used to. Today, Dye serves students who have grown up with heat-and-serve entrees and fast food, and her lunch offerings have changed to accommodate their tastes.
Weve taken all the lasagna and meatloaf off the menu because the kids dont know what that stuff is anymore, Dye said. They wont eat it.
Instead, Dye offers the items they will eat. Her menu runs heavy on mini corndogs, chicken nuggets and stuffed-crust pizza the foods students are familiar with from restaurants and TV commercials.
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