But that didn’t stop students from giving Berna and her staff a standing ovation during a school assembly, recently. The students watched a video about their dedication to providing students satisfying lunch choices that also meet their nutritional needs. Afterwards, students signed a banner with notes of appreciation and reasons why school lunch is “awesome.”
My Experience: Bringing Nutrition to the Table
Berna Meyer and her staff are featured in our video series, “My Experience…. Bringing My Story to the Table.” The series explores the journeys, passions and experiences of food service professionals working in different environments. Following their story below, Berna answered our questions about her experience in the school kitchen.
Q&A With Berna Meyer from Batesville Middle School
You started off as a volunteer at the school cafeteria. Tell us what has made you stay for 17 years.
Berna Meyer: “I started off as a volunteer at school when the last of my four girls started school. A part-time position came up so I decided to take that. My husband farms so we had to pay our own insurance. A full-time position came up so I decided to take it for the insurance. The manager retired about six years ago so I decided to apply for that, also. I took secretarial classes at the vocational school in high school. I had no desire to go to college. I worked in a bank right out of high school but got married and had four children. I stayed at home with my kids until they all started school.
“Working at a school worked perfect for myself, my husband and my kids. In the manager’s position I am able to also use my secretarial skills and cook… two of my favorite things in one job. I have stayed because I love the job. I love that it never gets boring. I love to research and find new recipes and ideas to use. Every day is different and I have breaks and the summer off.”
In your “My Experience…” story, you mention balancing tastes the students like with nutrition standards you must comply with. Can you share some of the solutions you have found?
BM: “When I took over as manager I would order different items to sample. For example: I had a broker come to sample the different hamburgers I could get at commodity price. I do the same with many other items we serve. There are different chicken nuggets, french fries, hamburgers and even different vegetables. I make sure that I only use whole grain items, but we try different ones to figure out which ones have the best taste and hold the best in the warmers. I then eliminate the ones we don’t care for. Corn, broccoli and green beans also can vary in quality. There’s not usually that much price difference, you just need to figure out which ones are the best.
“I ordered the seasonings from Commercial foods. They ran a special, if you bought so many spices you could get the shaker cans and station free. I usually watch for new trends like this and jump on it if I feel it will work. The kids like choices and change. If you can give choices the kids are much happier. That’s why I offer hot lunch, salad bar, and sandwich bar. It gives the kids choices. It’s not always easy to offer choices and it requires more work. I think by giving more choices, the kids will actually eat the food better.”
Where does your love of cooking come from? Who taught you to cook and do you share this with your children?
BM: “No one really taught me how to cook. My mom never liked to cook. My dad was the one that liked to cook. I think I started cooking after I got married. I married a farmer that came in for three meals a day. I had four daughters to feed. I was a stay at home mom so I had the time to cook. I liked to have family get togethers for the kids birthdays and that required cooking lots of food.”
If you weren’t managing the Batesville Middle School cafeteria, what would you be doing?
BM: “If I wasn’t managing at BMS I would be at home. My husband farms so there’s always plenty to do. I have three beautiful granddaughters so I would be spending time with them and my kids.”
What do you like (or dislike) about the school kitchen?
BM: “Our equipment is pretty new. We have a steamer (the heart of the kitchen I always say) four ovens, a huge pot for soups and warmers. There’s just not much room for nine people to move around easily. We also serve 400 students in one hour. This is the hardest part of the job. From 10:30 to 12:15 it’s non stop. It can get crazy, but we make it through everyday.”