Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Tales From The School Cafeteria

Oh, do I remember my school cafeteria.

I moved a lot as a kid, but one of the constants was the cafeteria. To me, they all smell the same, evoking memories of milk cartons, turkey tetrazzini, and the coveted pizza day. To this day, when I walk into one of my own children's lunchrooms I am instantly transported back to Pat Benatar on my Walkman, and tater tots on my tray.

My earliest lunchroom memory is from second grade. My parents had divorced, we were living in a new city, and I knew no one. To make matters worse, I had recently chopped off my long, Breck Girl hair and replaced it with the hideous mistake known as the Dorothy Hammill. I was shy, miserable, and embarrassed. My mother was suddenly a working mom, and I had no one with whom to sit at lunch and commiserate over my wretched second grade existence.

My teacher, Mrs. White, had intervened, trying her best to smooth the road for the new girl. She bestowed upon me, prematurely, the coveted yellow ISM button to wear on my shirt. ISM stood for Image Self Manager. Kind of like student of the month (my school had the name Image in it). Instead of ingratiating me in to the sorority of previous ISM pin wearers, it made me stand out even more as an outsider. Rather than invitations to the cool kids' table (or anyone's table, for that matter), I simply invited hissed statements like, You didn't really get that pin. You've only been here a week. I had jumped the chain of command and was appropriately punished for my transgression, even if only for my compliance in wearing a button I hadn't earned.

I would have been swallowed up at that school, save for one small thing: pizza day. On pizza day, not only was I allowed to have hot lunch (I normally packed something in my pale blue Snoopy lunchbox), but my mom would come and sit with me in the cafeteria. On that day, I had someone to sit with. And pizza. It didn't get much better than that.

I invite you today to think back to the seventies, or eighties, or whenever it was (just don't depress any of us and mention the nineties) and recall your favorite cafeteria memory. And, check out School Menu and Family Everyday, two sites that work together with School Food Services Directors to provide and promote healthy eating and physical fitness for kids and their parents. If you have kids in school and want to see if there is pizza on the lunch menu, you can click on your state and check out what's for lunch. I really, really like that feature, because as good as some of the food can be, I don't want to go hang out with my kid on turkey tetrazinni day (although I checked, and I think they stopped serving that back in 1981, so you're safe).

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