Brody Ingraham: This year must be crazy for you. Tell me a little about how things have changed.

Barbara Kenney: Well, I don't get to see you kids. In the kitchen we have to put everything in to-go boxes because you eat in your classrooms. Of course, everyone in the kitchen has to wear masks all day cooking, which gets very hot. As far as the meals, everything is about the same. It's mostly just not having you guys coming in and it's not being able to see you eating the food. This year has added a lot of extra work.

BI: What is it like to order food now? How do you keep on track?

BK: We order our food through our menus. Perly Martin, my boss, makes up the monthly menu and then we order weekly from that. It's basically the same as we did before, but it's more paper products, you know, to-go boxes, paper napkins, utensils, those kinds of things.

BI: How does it feel to have the cafeteria always empty?

BK: I would really rather see you guys in the cafeteria. There’s a lot of storage stuff that we have in there and unfortunately, it's not big enough for the size of groups that we have at lunchtime. This is the only school in our district that eats their lunch in classrooms. The other schools all go through a lunch line.

BI: Do you think kids like eating in their classrooms more than in the cafeteria?

BK: I'm really not sure how you guys feel about it. I don't like it as much, and I can't imagine that you guys do, because you don't get to talk to friends, you have to stay away from each other.

BI: Is there a lot more leftover food this year? What are you doing with the leftover food?

BK: Well, I get my numbers, you know, I go and collect the lunch slips every day, which tells me how many kids are getting school lunch that day, which tells us how much to cook for, say, a hundred kids.

As far as the leftovers, I don’t really think there are more. I think a lot more kids are eating their lunches.

BI: Walk me through a day in the life of Barb in the cafeteria.

BK: I get here at 5 in the morning, and I do the fresh fruit and veggie program. I get your fresh fruit and veggies ready until 7, and then at 7 a.m. I start your lunch stuff. Paula does the breakfast, so around 7:30 if she needs help I'll give her a hand and we get breakfast done and take it up to the classrooms at about 8. Then at 9, I go up and get the lunch slips so I know how many kids are going to have school lunch, and then I come back (to the lunchroom). Usually, I start whatever we're going to cook then for lunch.

For a meal with meat like tacos, at 5:30 in the morning I will start the taco meat so that everything gets cooked early, and then I decide how many I'm going to feed in a week. Once we get the numbers, we get all the stuff that takes longer — of course we cook that first, and then we get set up for your lunch.

After we serve the food, then we have to clean everything. We sweep and mop and make sure everything is clean and sanitized. If we're not busy fixing lunch, we can do something else.

The author wants to thank all of the lunch ladies for all that they do. He is sure it must be hard, and he wants them to know that the kids would rather be eating in the cafeteria, too.

Reprinted from The COVID Chronicle, a newspaper started by students in Nancy Nickerson's fourth grade class at Capt. Albert W. Stevens School about what it is like to attend school during the pandemic.