People: Patty Taylor, Hogsett Elementary cafeteria manager

November 17, 2003|HERB BROCK

When Patty Taylor attended Danville schools as a child, she actually enjoyed most of the meals she received during her 12 years in the system.

"There probaby were only two things I didn't care for: Fig Newton cookies and that lima bean-corn concoction called succotash," said the 1976 Danville High School graduate. "Otherwise, I really liked school cafeteria food."

She saw a lot of it as a schoolchild and she's seen a lot of it over the last 15 years as an adult worker - three as a server and cook at the Jennie Rogers Elementary School cafeteria and the last 12 as manager of Hogsett Elementary School cafeteria. Counting up her time on both sides of the serving line, she's been involved with school cafeteria food for 27 of her 45 years.

But she's found that eating food is a lot easier than managing it.

"There's a lot of paperwork, from menus to food orders to forms to the government showing that you're meeting minimum nutritional standards," said Taylor. "Then, there's the nuts and bolts of making sure all the food on the menu for a particular day is in stock and that it is prepared properly and served on time."


The daily menus at Hogsett and the Danville system's two other elementary schools, Jennie Rogers and Toliver, are the product of planning that Taylor does with her counterparts at the other two schools.

"Our menus are generally the same or similar, but each of us has the flexibility to change a few things or add our own special meals," she said.

One way the Danville elementaries differ from other schools is that they do not cycle menus, Taylor said.

"Many, if not most, school cafeterias do cycle menus, (meaning) they will come up with 10 to 12 menus and that cycle will be repeated and repeated and repeated over the school year," she said. "In other words, if you are served chili dogs on a Tuesday, you can mark your calendar for two Tuesdays later and you'll get chili dogs.

"Now, we do repeat meals, but it's not on a particular cycle. We are able to put in a different or new meal here and there."

And many of the meals, or at least parts of them, are inspired by the schoolchildren.

"We periodically ask the kids what they like and what they don't like," said Taylor. "And they will tell us what they want and grumble if they don't like something."

She said favorites of the Hogsett kids include pizza, chicken nuggets, chicken tenders, popcorn chicken, popcorn shrimp, hotdogs and chili dogs.

Taylor said one thing the Hogsett students don't like is trail mix, which includes nuts, dried dates and raisins. And they still don't like it even after Taylor has tried to dress it up with additional ingredients and icing in what she calls her "sunshine bar."

"The government gave us these trail mixes and, no matter if we serve it as is or try to make it tastier, most of the kids turn up their noses at it," she said. "Trail mix has the same effect on these kids as Fig Newtons did on me when I was their age eating in the school cafeteria."

But they do seem to like most other things Taylor and her crew serve. The main courses last week at Hogsett were: Monday, hamburgers and french fries; Tuesday, chili, grilled cheese sandwiches and tater tots; Wednesday, chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes; Thursday, soup, sandwiches and potato wedges; and Friday, Little Caesar's Pizza.

"We've gotten pretty good reviews from the kids on the food we serve them. At least we have not been accused of serving a 'mystery meat,'" she said with a laugh.

Taylor said meals more than meet minimum government nutrition standards, and they include the following daily allotments: 2 ounces of meat per child; three-fourths cup of fruit or vegetables, plus another one-fourth cup one day during the week; and two ounces of bread.

"We also are required to make sure that no more than 30 percent of the calories from each meal come from fat," she said. "We are well under that percentage."

There are about 325 students - preschool through fifth grade - at Hogsett and, of that number, 120 or so each day eat breakfast and 300 or so eat lunch or salad bar fare. Fifteen to 20 students every day bring their lunches from home. About 55 percent of the Hogsett student body are on the free or reduced lunch program.

"I love the fast pace of the job, preparing a variety of food, and the kids," said Taylor. "I feel we're providing good, nutritional meals to kids, some of whom are getting their only balanced meals of the day."

Taylor started her career in food service at a place where nutrition and balance weren't top priorities. She worked at a local fast-food restaurant for 12 years. While the food wasn't necessarily healthful, the job provided the "springboard" to her career in school cafeteria work, which began in 1988 as a server at Jennie Rogers.

"I've spent a majority of my life eating cafeteria food, serving it or managing it, and I've enjoyed both roles. Of course, I've also prepared a lot of meals at home," said the wife of David Taylor, a longtime ATR employee now working at Topty in Frankfort, and mother of Melissa Baxter, a Danville insurance agent, and Melanie Bowling, who, as a teacher in the Danville system, can sample school cafeteria food every day at work.

"One thing I can say for sure about my life in food (is that) it hasn't produced any food fights at work or at home," Taylor said with a chuckle."

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