Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Back to School Anticipation

Back to School holds different meaning to me these days. When my kids were little we would share an entire summer of freedom from the normal routine, lots of fun in the sun, not to mention less stringent rules about bedtime. With the start of school it meant my own personal freedom, and a return of peace and quiet during the day.

Fast forward several years and I now find myself anticipating the start of the new school year not only as a parent but also as a school employee. You see, I am a School Food Service Manager. I spend countless hours in the weeks prior to the new school year beginning making sure the computer system is set up, menu planning, food orders, overseeing/scheduling kitchen & equipment maintenance. Most every year I am asked to cater special events at the beginning of the year for both the school and the district. I don't mind, as I enjoy cooking.

The first day of school marks the busiest weeks of the school year for me as I wade through the mountains of free/reduced paperwork that ends up on my desk for approval. With the economy the way it is, the number of applicants keeps increasing.

School Food Service workers are under appreciated. The work environment is extremely fast paced. Often schools cut food service staffing to save a few dollars, whereby increasing the work load of the remaining staff. When I took over the program four years ago I had six employees, I now have four. Working in a school kitchen has nothing to do with opening a can of food and heating it. We have evolved into nutrition specialists and attend ongoing training to keep up to date on new regulations and federal requirements.

In these four years, the amount of federally unfunded mandates and paperwork that the USDA requires us to complete on a daily basis has increased. Food Safety is at the forefront of our job, which has also added an incredible amount of time and paperwork to complete each day. There is increased pressure from the USDA and locally by parents to feed more fresh produce and whole grains to students (items that cost more to put on the plate)...and all to be done on a very tight shoestring budget. Where can you get a balanced meal that is low in fat, sugar, and sodium that includes fresh produce & whole grains (and pay for maintenance/repair/replacement of equipment, staff wages & benefits) for less than $2.75 per meal? School food service workers are asked to do just that each and every day.

Lest you misunderstand, I do love my job. The staff, the students, and their parents are all fun aspects of my job. I zero in on the Kindergarten students because they are the prime target for change to healthier eating habits. Changes I'm implementing today won't be widespread and visible for at least ten years.

The job holds many challenges...difficult students, parents, staff. But the job can also be very rewarding. The stress levels of this job can be quite high at times, as is the case with most fast paced jobs. On stressful days it is a relief to come home and bury myself in fun projects like soapmaking and crochet ~ my extremely fun job!

August 18 Etsybloggers Blog Carnival

Choose one of the 2 topics to write about:
1. "Back to School" What does it mean to you?
2. "Tools of the Trade" Tell of your favorite tool or a tool you use in your craft.

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