Before USD 383 students began their summer vacation Wednesday afternoon, they lunched on what amounted to a mystery box of meals.
The options all, of course, met school nutrition standards. But they also had one other thing in common: At year’s end, they consisted of items that needed to be used up.
Food service director Stephanie Smith said food service made a list of its inventory and gave it to the managers at each school. She said managers tried to get the most-enjoyed food for the school. “The popular items do vary between schools,” Smith said.
For instance, Manhattan High East Campus students had pizza while Northview Elementary students had hot dogs and BBQ beef. Upcoming construction activity affected Bluemont Elementary and Marlatt Elementary, where students had sack lunches.
Theodore Roosevelt Elementary didn’t serve the really popular choices of breakfast for lunch or super nachos, but students had a wide variety served to them.
The kitchen cooked chicken o’s, hamburgers, hot dogs, fish, grilled cheese and parfaits. Of course, the students didn’t know that until lunch started.
“I tell them ahead of time it’s whatever I happen to have,” said Dee West, TR food service manager. She said the surprise aspect actually reduces the number of meals served; TR served 150 lunches Wednesday, below the average of 195 students eating school lunches.
West said the young students would get hot dogs, and parfaits would operate as a second choice until they run out. Besides those parameters, West said the kitchen would make only one entrée available at a time.
She does this so the students aren’t overwhelmed. “Otherwise, there are too many choices, and the kids can’t make a decision,” West said.
Just like with the kids, West said she anticipates the last day of school as well. “I kind of look forward to the last day, but I’m a person of routine who likes to have something to do,” she said.
The lunch staff — West and Sharon Miller — still operated Wednesday as they do every day, starting lunch preparation around 9:30 a.m. With it being the last day, they wanted to wrap up quickly so they could find time to say goodbye to the students.
West, who has worked there for 23 years, has seen many students come and go. Some have even come back with their own children as parents, she said.
“When you watch them grow from kindergarten to sixth grade and mature, it’s amazing,” West said. She operates as a grandmother of sorts for some students, feeding them breakfast as well and giving hugs when needed.
West, who went to TR for elementary school, and her family are five generations deep in TR tradition. The family’s school linage goes back to West’s great-aunt and continues with her granddaughter, who currently attends TR.
“This is like home to me,” she said.