Editor's note: While researching an article about school cafeterias, News Bulletin staff writer Brian Hughes recently lunched with about 200 Riverside Elementary School students and shared this critique:
I followed Kaleb, Cayden, J’Marcus, Hayle and their classmates through the line and was impressed by how much the servers cared for their students. At one point, manager Lydia Bradley paused to tie J’Marcus’ shoelaces for him.
Selections all looked and smelled delicious. There was no depressing, stale-food smell I always associated with the lunch line as a kid. Everything radiated freshness and gave no indication of having sat under warming lights since late morning. In fact, there was a constant parade of freshly prepared food coming from the kitchen.
Staff was also constantly cleaning up the serving and dining areas and buffet line as each wave of youngsters trooped through. Every kid enjoyed a clean, tidy lunch line as well as a clean table and bench in the multi-purpose room.
I decided on one of the hot entrées. Tempting as the quesadilla looked, I opted for the chicken patty sandwich. The whole-wheat bun was fresh, and the baked breaded chicken patty was savory and tender. The edges were not at all tough, as often happens when they sit on a serving line too long. The baked tatortots were much lighter and tastier than their fried cousins, and the baked breaded green beans were something new for me and — with that wonderful cornmeal breading that fried okra is done with — really gave the veggie an enjoyable kick. Everything was lightly seasoned with none of that unpleasant fast-food institutional reheated tang.
I was delighted with the choice of a fresh orange half, but opted for the fruit cocktail just to see if it had that nasty, canned fruit ‘tin’ taste.
The fruit was crisp and was served in a rich, tasty juice.
For a beverage, there was a selection of fruit juice as well as bottled water and sweet tea. I took a container of 100 percent apple juice, which hit the spot after such a tasty lunch. Then, I sat back and envied the kids.
If only my school cafeterias had served such great choices!