One of the very first things I did on the job was make a lentil salad for our salad bar. It was really simple: I boiled 10 cups of lentils until they were tender and mixed them with vinegar, oil and salt and pepper. No one had seen lentils on the salad bar before, so they were devoured quickly. My next step was to show our salad lady how to make them.
Our salad lady wears many hats during her day at my school. She’s also a lunch server, dishwasher, and kitchen helper too. She spends less than half of her six-hour day working on the salad bar. While she usually makes all components of the salad bar, I will pitch in too. Items like roasted vegetables involve a bit of coordination with other staff that might be using the oven that day.
There has been resistance to the change, however gradual it has been. Breaking a routine that has been set in place for a very long time takes getting used to. Most improvements to the salad bar require more work and effort, and the workday hasn’t gotten any longer. It’s a contentious issue, and I understand both sides. For now, adding a couple of new dishes here and there has been working for us.
Even with many improved dishes on the salad bar this year, the cost of ingredients has been about the same as before. Our salad bar held fresh raw vegetables, and canned and processed food. Because many of our newer dishes begin with dried ingredients, beans or grains, that we have to cook ourselves, we aren’t paying for the convenience of cooked food in cans, which tend to be pricier. Also, by buying from a local farm, serving fresh, in-season vegetables becomes affordable – we pay $13 for ten pounds of peeled and diced butternut squash. Prices of our staple salad vegetables fluctuate dramatically over the school year, so if the cost of cucumbers is particular high one week, we may reduce the amount, or even eliminate, what we put out on the bar.