Serving Up Respect in the Kitchen

Have you ever wondered what the lunch ladies are doing when we’re not in lunch? They are crunched for time, preparing for the moment you walk into the cafeteria.


Cafeteria worker, Joanna Perez, is a very respectable lady in the kitchen. She always greets and asks how the students are.

Brianna Boen, Bear Hub Staff

“Hey mom, can you please put your work shirt back on so I can take a picture of you for my article?”

“Please don’t make me put that shirt back on, Brianna.” She says, with an exhausted expression, still hearing the voices of hundreds of kids screaming in the echoing cafeteria.

But that’s just the thing. Students don’t realize how much preparation and effort is put into making their meals. The lunch ladies can sense this from the “thank you’s” they don’t receive, but instead a head nod or no eye contact at all.

“I’ve seen students be demanding, not saying please or thank you, and just not listening when asked what they want.” Keira Marques, 12, explains to the hub. Offering just a head nod for lifting multiple cases of water, cooking and serving food, and not getting time to sit might not seem rude, and I get it, in that moment you’re just trying to get back to the table with your friends.

My mom, Michele Mercado, is a first year cafeteria employee at Lawrence Brook Elementary School and has a “total new respect for people who work in the kitchen at schools because [she] didn’t realize how much hard work goes into it. Students don’t think about that stuff and they just think about their meal. They don’t know how much work is being put into getting their food.”

“Would you like to elaborate on a personal experience?” I ask, already knowing the answer by her frustrated face. This reminds me of the story she told me about a student who stole food from her kitchen. Being in the comfort of her own home, thinking of students stealing food from her cafeteria is the last thing she wants to discuss.

There are even students who would go the distance to steal at the high school: “I know a guy who stole seven muffins from the cafeteria,” says Madison Boen, 12, someone else who hates to see disrespect to those in the kitchen. “It’s just like, why are you continuing to be rude by stealing when they are offering us free lunch?”

My mom starts to count on her hand the massive truck deliveries that come each week. “In order to get all the products to school, there is a lot of paperwork. For my school, we have to unload the truck, consisting of about 25 cases of water as well as all the cases of food. We also have a milk delivery that is about 4-5 cases of milk, an ice cream delivery, and produce delivery once a week.”

“But when do you have time to unload all that?”

“Exactly. It is more stressful to prepare and get things ready in a timely manner than to just serve the food because we are extremely pressed for time.”

Our dogs start to bark at the sight of the mailman, interrupting her train of thought. She holds her head in stress, trying to remember all the behind the scene duties of an employee in the kitchen.

I attempt to put her back on track. “So what kind of paperwork has to be done everyday?”

She nods her head. “Well we have a binder to keep track of how many meals have been served to the students which takes about 20-25 minutes each day to work on.”

Let’s not forget about end of day routines and responsibilities that need to be done before leaving the kitchen. Furthermore, maintaining a spotless kitchen, such as washing huge pans and scrubbing the counters is essential, yet extremely time consuming.

All this work is just for an elementary school consisting of about 430 kids. Imagine doing this everyday for around 2,000 students.

“What makes you excited to come to work everyday?“

She flashes a smile and thinks of the students who she is happy to serve. “For me, I love doing it for the kids that appreciate it.”

The next time you are in line, perhaps ask the lunch lady how her day is, or even what her name is. Give her a reason to appreciate why she comes to school everyday and puts in the hard work for you.

This lunch lady is always ready to serve kids in the sandwich line.