Back To School!

Boy with lunch tray in school cafeteriaNow that school is back in session, parents around the world get their schedules back. Many have to work on homework at night, sign agendas, fill out school paperwork and get up every morning to make a healthy lunch before sending their kids off to a day at school. Wait… you don’t make a homemade lunch for your kids daily? What kind of parent are you? The answer? The same as many other parents! Schools offer education. Education transcends the classroom and enters the lunch room every school day. The lunchrooms of today are not like it was when I was a kid. There are more choices for students as well as stricter guidelines for schools. How has that changed the kitchen? Let’s look.

If you were to step into today’s K-12 school kitchen, you would notice that it is far more streamlined than in the past. Why? The food being put into that kitchen has changed. Back in the day, most kitchens were working with raw ingredients. Slicers, ovens, choppers, sinks, braising pans, steam jacketed kettles and holding cabinets galore were used to change those raw goods into the lunch we (some not so fondly) remember from our childhoods.

Fast forward to today. What things are no longer necessary? Slicers, choppers, braising pans, kettles and holding cabinets are all less important. These items are used far less frequently as many of the entrees come in an almost complete state. Meaning, the entrees need only to be heated and prepared to be served at each designated lunch period. Holding is less of an issue as cook times are more predictable. If you have four or more ovens working, you can time your finish times to coincide with your service needs. Oven number one starts a little earlier than oven number four. As the items in the first oven are served, the next oven is almost ready to pull from. Since many of the foods are pre-cooked, the timing is easier to predict.

Service of the foods is a simple hunt and point line experience. Hot and cold food tables are used as a landing pad for the finished goods. If done correctly, there is no back-up. As a pan is emptied, a fresh pan is delivered. Timing is everything.

You can’t look at changes in school lunch prep without talking about the back end. I remember the days when you would take your empty tray to the “window” and slide it to the nameless, faceless person that would hit the tray with a prep-rinse and rack the tray for the conveyor oven. Now, the process is less labor intensive. Many of the items available for students are served in a disposable container. This means the students handle the prep-rinse function and return much cleaner trays to the “window”. Here, the same worker racks the trays for the trip through the dish machine.

Though the kitchen may have changed, the lunchroom remains the same. Chaos. Talking, laughing and memories are still being produced as they were in the old days. Maybe that’s the most important part.

Tags: commercial kitchen equipment, industrial kitchen equipment, kitchen equipment, school kitchen

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