Cafeteria Plan

From first grade (the first year that I was in school all day) through 12th grade, each and every day I ate my lunch in the school cafeteria. The same cafeteria. That’s because my elementary, junior high, and high schools were all part of the same Catholic school system. The cafeteria was located over near the high school, so in grade school (particularly the younger grades) we had to line up, two by two, holding hands, to quietly walk over to the cafeteria.

By the way, that walk over to the cafeteria caused me to get the only reprimand I ever got in school. I was accused of talking to my friend on the way, and got a paddle on my behind as a result. I assure you, I was innocent.

And for that entire time, and for several years after I graduated, the school cafeteria was run by a woman named Mrs. Fletcher. I’m sure she had a first name, and perhaps I even once knew what it was (Clara?), but I always knew her as Mrs. Fletcher.

I can’t recall what the cost of our school lunches were, but what I can tell you is that, unlike the lunches of today (and perhaps even the lunches of the period about which I’m talking at schools other than mine), the lunches were quite good. Homemade by Mrs. Fletcher and her minion of school lunch cookers. A bevy of women in hair nets who dished out our lunch each day. We would go through the line, take our food (no choices, you ate what they served), grab a carton of milk – white or chocolate – and find your friends at the table.

When you were finished with lunch, you would put anything you hadn’t eaten into the milk carton so that the nuns wouldn’t need to lecture you about the poor, starving children in the Philippines.

Dad was friends – or at least friendly – with Mrs. Fletcher, because part of the reason the lunches were so good is that the bread was made fresh each day by Gloor’s Bakery. Hamburger buns, white bread, dinner rolls. All home made. And he would deliver them.

I thought about Mrs. Fletcher recently when I came across photos of typical lunches from around the world. I believe the point that was being made by these photos is that school lunches in America are inferior to those in other countries. Maybe yes, maybe no.  I suspect it isn’t easy to feed children food that they like within tight school budgets, no matter the country.

france lunch

italy lunch

usa lunch

Here’s what I do know, however. Mrs. Fletcher helped form my taste buds. To this day when I eat Sloppy Joes, I take the two halves of the bun apart, lay them side by side, and ladle the Sloppy Joe mix over the two halves. There is no topping better on chocolate cake than whipped cream. Nothing tastes better than putting mashed potatoes right on top of your meatloaf. Salmon loaf needs to have potato chips crumbled on top. And, while I probably haven’t eaten a fish stick since I graduated from high school, nothing says Friday lunch better than fish sticks.

scampiAnd speaking of Friday, here is another meatless meal offering. This recipe includes shrimp, so it obviously isn’t vegetarian. There are many recipes for Shrimp Scampi, but I find this lemony shrimp scampi by Food Network’s Melissa D’Arabian to be one of the best. I love the lemony flavor of the sauce.


Shrimp Scampi jpeg





10 thoughts on “Cafeteria Plan

  1. This reminds me of the cafeteria in the school where I taught in Alabama. It was a small school and the cafeteria had just a small refrigerator, so food was brought in fresh each day and any leftover food had to be discarded. Teachers had to take an accurate count of who was eating that day. When they served fried chicken, made from scratch, each student and teacher got one piece, so the count had to be extra accurate those days. I remember one time that it started snowing (a rare event) after school had begun, and we needed to dismiss early so the kids could get home before the roads got bad. But, the cafeteria had already begun cooking lunch, and we had to wait until everyone could eat the spaghetti, so it wouldn’t have to be thrown away. Armies and schools run on their bellies!

  2. Have you tried mix and match mama’s coaches stack? It’s her take on a dish from Ditka’s restaurant in Chicago? It has meatloaf and mashed potatoes stacked on cornbread. I haven’t tried it yet but I think it looks delish.

  3. The best lunch was chili with Mrs. Fletcher’s cinnamon rolls, one per customer. Clara Fletcher was also a business woman first, and that is why we ate well. You remember that she punched tickets at the door. She knew precisely how many of us ate on any given day.
    The nuns and priests were transferred occasionally, but Mrs. Fletcher was an institution.

    • Yes, the chili was good and the cinnamon rolls were delicious. I also recall a creamed potatoes-and-ham that, for some reason, I LOVED. I was trying to remember whether we had tickets or not. My brother said he got caught with the milk carton trick once and he never did it again.

  4. Some day can you do an entire post on Mrs. Fletcher’s kolaches?!! One memory I have from cafeteria was seeing how the high school boys would pile the pbj and butter sandwiches on top of their already full tray. PS The US lunch picture doesn’t make us look too good!

    • And yet, if you put a wedge of Brie and sliced apples on any American school child’s plate, it would be a no-go. And I forgot about her kolaches. Yum.

  5. Kris, I loved your dad’s dinner rolls, smothered in real butter, of course. Mrs. Fletcher was amazing. Did your dad make the kolaches, too?

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