lunch on a pink tray

This is another post written as part of the Write-of-passage, Challenge two – The Lunch Box Essay. I stunk it up last week by not doing any critiques and not even editing my own piece. Life last week was stressful.  I’m hoping to make up for that this week.

Walking down the hall in a single-file line, we all peered ahead to see the little chalk board that would tell us our choices for the day. There were a few things that I loved to see, grilled cheese being one of them.

We each waited our turn as the line slowly filed past the cafeteria window. I always hated the damp smell of the industrial dishwasher – steam mixed with leftover bits of food. If I heard the sound of the water, I tried to hold my breath.

But the lunch ladies were kind. Most of them, anyway. All dolled up in their hair  nets and nylons and aprons.

The rule was you had to take a bit of everything. Sometimes we were allowed to choose between the lesser of two evils. Thankfully the pastel plastic lunch trays had divided sections, so when I was forced to have green beans or peas on my tray, their juices didn’t invade the food I might actually eat.

Every day we were given a carton of white milk, and on Fridays a choice of chocolate milk. This was long before missing children haunted the cartons, though we were constantly reminded of the starving children in Ethiopia, and how sinful it was to waste our food.

I’m quite sure the lunch ladies were less than thrilled with the faces I made as they asked if I wanted “a little” or “a lot” of something. Most times I answered “None, please” but the beans and peas and carrots always found their way onto my tray.

It wasn’t all bad though. The best, by far, was beef and noodles. I wanted them to fill up all the compartments of my tray with beef and noodles. They would fill the large section and if I was lucky, they might fill one of the side sections too. If we ate quickly, and there was enough to go around, we could go back for seconds. On beef and noodle day, I ate my quota for the week.

We were expected to take some of everything and we were expected to eat the majority of what was on our tray. This never seemed entirely fair to me. There were two silver rolling carts at the front of the gymnasium where our long lunch tables were set up. Older children were given the task of monitoring what was being thrown into the trash. They actually had the authority to tell you to go back to your table and eat some more. An oversized metal slop bowl and spatula were located on the rolling cart right next to the growing stack of used trays. All the food was to be scraped into the bowl so we would be mindful of what was being wasted. That bowl made me gag every day.

Most days, I secretly scraped the majority of the soggy, industrial vegetables into my milk carton and nervously tossed it into the huge trash can.

I always wished I could send it to Ethiopia instead, to feed the starving children.

And this is where my linky should be, but WordPress does not agree. To read the other submissions, click here and the linky will be at the bottom.


5 responses to “lunch on a pink tray

  1. Great description — I was online, right there, behind you — I suddenly remember the smell of the inside of my metal lunch box. Sort of like the dishwasher, I’m sure.

  2. oh my gosh…that smell! I had forgotten about that smell! (just as I had forgotten about the challenge…this week is a fail…maybe next week)
    I have so many memories of our cafeteria. Most things they did back then are probably against all codes these days. Thanks for bringing back a flurry of fond memories along with the horrid smell of that industrial dish washer…

  3. Our principal would take home the scrapings bucket to his pigs. You totally brought back that smell of the dishwasher to my mind! Kids would volunteer to help wash dishes instead of going to recess. It was so weird.

  4. Dishwasher smell! Ugh!

  5. A slop bowl? That’s crazy talk! I grew up in the country, too.

    Fascinating glimpse into your cafeteria days. Thanks for sharing!

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