The Other Side of the School Cafeteria

The Other Side of the School Cafeteria - Food & Nutrition Magazine - Stone Soup
Photo by Valerie Weivoda

Since I was a student in the public school system, I grew up eating from the school cafeteria. My whole family came to eat with me when the Thanksgiving meal was served — I loved the vegetable soup and I’ll never forget the delicious cookies! It wasn’t until I had the opportunity to work as an intern with Lee County Schools in Tupelo, Mississippi, that I discovered the school cafeteria is so much more than I thought it was.

The first day of my internship began with an unexpected start when I received a message from my preceptor Valerie Weivoda MS, RD, LD, SNS, Director of Child Nutrition, that a cooler went down at one of the schools. I met her at the school where, unfortunately, some of the food had to be discarded; we also took inventory of it. This task took up half of the day, and when we went back to the office there was more work to be done. In the child nutrition office I learned about marketing, finance, human resources, conflict resolution, payroll, inventory management, ordering food and creating menus; and that’s only the beginning. I had no idea what went into running a few cafeterias!

The school nutrition system must be managed like a well-oiled machine. It is a business where there are no shortcuts or slacking and is made up of hard workers where every job matters and everyone is greatly respected and appreciated for what they do.

My preceptor Valerie said, “The beauty of our mission is that it is universal. No matter what language you speak, background, cultural differences, or where you live, we all speak the language of food. This is what brings us together.”

My experience with Lee County School Nutrition was incredible and it is something I will never forget. Being a part of this amazing organization for just four short weeks touched my life so much and gave me a greater insight into all of the hard work and dedication it takes to operate the program.

Next time you see a person who works for the school cafeteria system, thank them. Cafeteria workers are rock stars for our children — schools would not be the same without their selfless work and passion.

Mary Kathryn Decker
Mary Kathryn Decker graduated with a degree in Nutrition & Dietetics from The University of Mississippi in May of 2019. After graduation she began a distance dietetic internship through the University of Northern Colorado that she will complete in March of 2020. She currently resides in Tupelo, Mississippi with her husband John. She has a passion for childhood nutrition and hopes to have a career in helping others create healthy habits that last a lifetime.