'Lunch lady' Sandy Lenhardt has been serving St. Vrain students for 23 years
Jan 02, 2013 (Daily Times-Call - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Sure, some of the changes in school lunch menus over the years have put a bit of a dent in Sandy Lenhardt's creative spirit, but the core mission of her work hasn't changed.
"The thing I enjoy most is serving the food to the students, and that hasn't changed in the 23 years," said Lenhardt, who has spent the last 171/2 of those years at Hygiene Elementary. Lenhardt is the kitchen manager at Hygiene, charged with following strict food preparation guidelines while enticing the appetites of some 200 or so students every day. All of the elementary schools in the district are literally on the same page every day -- and she produces a three-inch thick recipe book to prove it.
"Every kitchen has a book like this, and we don't
detour," Lenhardt said on a recent morning, having completed her early prep work.
She arrives about 7:30 a.m. and starts with baking, if there's any to do that day. Then it's on to cutting up the vegetables with the help of her assistant, who comes in later in the morning.
Baking -- cookies and cakes and the like -- is one of the things that has fallen out of favor under the government's nutritional guidelines, she said.
In the early days, "if you did a chili, you just put whatever you wanted to in that chili," Lenhardt said. "And if it said 'cookie' you could do an oatmeal cookie, you could do a chocolate chip cookie.
"We still do rolls now and then, but they're wheat. We really try to make a healthy lunch."
Also out: handling raw meat in school kitchens. It comes direct from the school district warehouse ready to use. White flour and salt are school lunch history. And if you're of a certain age and remember volunteering to help out in your school's kitchen, you'll remember the five-gallon buckets of lard as a kitchen staple. Not any more.
"I have a 50-pound bag of sugar that lasts me forever any more," Lenhardt said.
But her and her colleagues do provide feedback among themselves
"Lunch Lady" Sandy Lenhardt serves hamburgers for lunch to students at Hygiene Elementary on Tuesday, Dec. 4. (Lewis Geyer/Times-Call)
and back to the district about how to best prepare certain things and what kids are liking and what they're not. That's important because no one wants to serve food that's just getting tossed out, she said.
"What I like to do is when we serve something new, I like to give them a little sample anyway, because they'll take the peanut butter and jelly, the second choice," rather than experiment on a new dish, Lenhardt said. "And then I go out and ask the kids, 'Did you like it ' Then I will pass that one to (the school district)."
Every day she provides two options for a main dish, and just about every day features what she calls the "veggie patch" -- three vegetables mixed together.
Lunch lasts from about 11:30 to 1 and
Sandy Lenhardt has her lunch before serving students at Hygiene Elementary on Tuesday, Dec. 4. (Lewis Geyer/Times-Call)
comes in waves. Once one grade is served, Lenhardt and her colleagues reload the trays to be ready for the next round.
Baking is the thing she misses most about the old days, Lenhardt said. That, and the gelatin desserts, in which she liked to add different kinds of fruit and top it off with whipped cream.
But times have changed, and she's happy with that, and she enjoys the kids and the two women who help her out each day.
What hasn't changed is the eager faces of the grade-schoolers, lining up and then getting the opportunity to flex some independence by deciding whether or not they want lettuce and tomato on their hamburgers, or whether they want the apple wedges or the veggie patch.
"Back then, I had some pride in serving that lunch, and I still have some pride in serving that lunch," Lenhardt said. "I try to make those fruits and vegetables look as good as they can on that plate. And it is very colorful."
Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-684-5291 or at email@example.com.
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