Back to School: Lunch Time Tips


Is lunch time one of those times of day that you dread? Can you relate to this video when lunch time rolls around?

At the beginning of the year, students in the primary grades, have so many new things to learn.  After learning restroom procedures, how to come to the carpet, how to lineup, walk in the hallway, and what seems like hundreds of other details, is it any wonder that they go a little crazy when it's lunch time?

When I taught kindergarten, I included this story in my Back to School presentation:

One year during the first week of school, I thought I had my kinder kids settled for lunch so I could go to the teachers' lounge to eat mine.  One of our cafeteria monitors came in and asked me to speak to one of my students.  The little boy was crying and they couldn't calm him down or find out why he was upset.  This was the little boy's first time to buy a lunch.  But, when he took a bite of his food, he became upset because "it didn't taste like his Mom's food".  Luckily, our cafeteria manager had some peanut butter and jelly so she could make him a sandwich.  I tell my parents that the moral to this story is young children have enough adjustments to make the first few weeks of school.  Parents can help by sending a lunch from home so it is one less thing for them to worry about during this hectic time.  

Many of my parents did send lunches the first few weeks of school. This had expected bonuses!  I had more time to help the ones who bought a lunch the lunch line procedures because I had fewer buying a lunch the first few weeks.  The lunch from home group was less stressed.  When the lunch from home group began buying a lunch, the other group already knew the procedures so they were their buddies.  

Does your lunch program offer different choices?  While it is nice for the students, it can create headaches for the teacher and cafeteria workers serving the food.  At one of my school districts, we had several different options and the cafeteria manager wanted us to line up our students in the following order:
  • 1st:  Students purchasing milk and/or dessert.
  • 2nd: Students purchasing 1st choice.
  • 3rd: Students purchasing 2nd choice.
  • 4th: Students purchasing sandwich.
Now, when you teach little ones, you know that the best laid plans of mice men and all that, right?  Yes, I can have them lined up correctly in the classroom, but and this is a big but, we have to walk a little while before we get to the cafeteria.  I swear at times it was like no man's land.  When my students entered no man's land, our perfectly wonderful line order disappeared.  Not a great way to make a good impression on the cafeteria manager when you are new at a school.  She literally was yelling at me the first day of school.  I had just moved to this new state and had a new job.  Not a happy first day of school for me!

So, I put on my thinking cap AND I did a little retail therapy.  Shopping always makes things better, right?  I was strolling through Target, when I found some colorful, plastic clothes pins.  I did a little brainstorming and figured out a solution to my students getting out their line order when we enter the no man's land.  

I clipped a blue clothes pin to the collar, sleeve, or some part of the clothing, preferably chest height or higher of the students who were in the first group of the line order.  I clipped a green clothes pin to the 2nd group, red clothes pin to the 3rd group, and yellow clothes pin to the 4th group.  The students who brought a lunch from home did not get a clothes pin.

It was easy to see if anyone got out of place because the clothes pins are bright and colorful.  The cafeteria workers complimented me on them.  They could see from distance how many more first choice lunch trays they needed to make by looking at the pins.

My students wore the clothes pins to lunch.  Once in a while, one would get broken but it didn't happen very often.  I did purchase double the amount that I needed.  I figured there would be some that would get lost or broken.  Any left overs I could use the following year.

For some reason, colorful plastic clothes pins are very hard to find - at least where I live.  I could only find wooden clothes pins.  I did try dyeing those but found that the wooden ones break easily.  I ordered these on Amazon.

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The Schroeder Page said...

At my new school we don't have a cafeteria so I will have no buyers. The hardest thing for me is remembering to pack my own lunch!
Great post!
The Schroeder Page

Jayne Gammons said...

Great tip! Thanks, Jayne
Smart Kids
ABCs of Reading

Jennifer @ Simply Kinder said...

We have several choices in our lunch line and it's so hard for the kinders to understand you get one from this section and 2 from that section. And even worse the entrees are spread along the case so that really confuses things. =) This would surely help for my sanity!

Simply Kinder

Tiffani Mugurussa said...

Michelle, great idea! Although I kids have two choices, it doesn't matter where they are in line. I might suggest this to our staff to speed up the process. I did find colored clothes pins at our .99 Cent store. I bought 5 packs to last me a while. They do break, but hey I got 60 for .99 Cents
Time 4 Kindergarten

Stephanie Seigel said...

I do the same thing, but just write numbers (in coordinated colors, of course!) on wooden clothespins. I find it to be helpful not only for reminding students where they need to be in line, but also for keeping them accountable for sticking to their lunch choice they ordered. Before I used this system, many times my lunch count would be "off" when students arrived in the kitchen and decided they would rather have something other than what they ordered. Our kitchen staff also is VERY grateful for this system! I will take your suggestion and look for the colored clothespins! Too cute!

:) Stephanie from First Grade Bangs