Oct 10, 2017

School Cooks Work Hard to Provide Healthy Options

Heritage Elementary School cooks prepare to serve healthy lunches to students

Editor’s note: This is National School Lunch week, so we thought we’d take a few minutes to chat with one of the district’s unsung heroes from the school cafeteria.

In her 19 years working in Pickerington Schools’ cafeterias, Nancy Conley has seen more than a few handfuls of chicken fingers.

She’s also seen gardens of carrot sticks, pallets of pizzas, and enough pretzels to twist anyone into a knot!

Conley (shown in the photo with Heritage cooks Michele Franklin and Stephanie Troyer) has been one of Pickerington’s school cooks for almost two decades, most of which have been spent at Heritage Elementary, where she is currently head cook.

“I love my job,” Conley said. “It’s exciting, and the kids are generally happy. You see them every day, and they always have something they want to tell you!”

Conley has seen a lot of changes during her time in the cafeteria. One of the biggest differences is the ever-increasing emphasis on healthier meals. That’s meant more whole grains, more fresh produce, less salt, and other healthful options on kids’ plates.

“Back in 2010, they started the ‘Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act,’” she said. “Now, every child must have at least one vegetable or one fruit, although they can have both. They must have three of the five required items on their plate. We do fresh salads on the line every day, fresh carrots every day. We’re constantly working to make things healthier.”

Conley and the other district cooks know that serving healthy lunches and breakfasts is an important part of a child’s education. After all, kids can’t learn if they’re hungry. Conley said it’s her job to make sure kids want to eat the foods they’re given – even if the foods are things they aren’t used to eating.

“At first, it can be difficult getting them to eat the healthy options, but once they learn they’re going to have the food on their tray regardless, they usually start trying it,” she said.

Being a great “lunch lady” is about more than just slinging veggies, though. There’s a lot of training required to ensure the cafeterias are safe, as well as able to provide hundreds of meals each day to hungry children. School cooks also focus a great deal on customer service.

“You’ve got to be positive,” she said. “You’ve got to be patient. I think it’s also important to have a smile on your face, to greet the kids, and make them feel important.”

Did you know?

  • Each day, Pickerington Schools Food Services serve about 7,200 meals, including 1,200 breakfasts!
  • It takes about 75 cooks district-wide to ensure students have nutritious, tasty meals available to help them learn and grow!
  • In 2015, our Food Services Program was named one of the Top 100 in the country by “Best Food.”