The school lunch line: only a few people really understand it—cafeteria workers, students and teachers. To everyone else, the lunch line is shrouded in mystery. Here is a peek at lunch lines today.
Let’s start with the most persistent rumor (as evidenced by occurrences in kids’ books.) No one gets held up for their lunch money anymore. If you are a parent, don’t worry about it. If you are a children’s book writer, don’t make this a plot point.
Nowadays, many students qualify for the free or reduced price lunch program. For them, lunch money isn’t an issue. Students who do pay for lunch commonly have parents who electronically deposit money into their lunch accounts via an online system. Another possibility is that the student brings in a check or cash occasionally, and the money is added to the child’s account.
Kids have lunch cards with barcodes that are scanned by cafeteria workers. There is some system by which teachers or aides distribute these cards to students. The procedure varies—different schools have different ways.
Schools with a large percentage of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch often have very, very long lunch lines. I have worked at schools that have a lunch line stretching out of the cafeteria and down the hallway. These schools have to be really organized. One system is for each class to queue up only after the class scheduled ahead calls to say that they have joined the line.
I feel bad for these kids, because they spend a lot of time waiting in the lunch line. However, based on the way school cafeterias are built, I really don’t see many ways to increase efficiency without building additional lunch lines. The kids still have to pass through the actual kitchen area to select their lunch and scan their card.
The good news is that kids usually have fun in these lunch lines. They are allowed to talk, joke and have fun with friends. (Within reason– no wrestling allowed!)