Ron Maglov looked a little wary yesterday as he prepared to do something he hasn't done in about 25 years -- eat lunch in a school cafeteria.
But after sampling the lunch of barbecue pork pattie sandwich and string beans at Kingsville Elementary School in northeastern Baltimore County, Mr. Maglov gave the meal a thumbs up.
His son Steven, 7, was more enthusiastic. "I buy my lunch all the time," he said between mouthfuls. "I like everything. If I didn't like it, I wouldn't buy it."
Parents across Maryland are becoming reacquainted with the cafeteria this week as schools invite them to join their child for a midday repast during National School Lunch Week, Oct. 15-19.
For parents like Mr. Maglov, it is important that a cafeteria lunch be enjoyable so their children get the balanced meals and develop good eating habits in the process.
Mr. Maglov said he's seen a change in the way Steven eats at home. "He eats his vegetables at home now," he said. "He used to didn't do that."
The people who work in the cafeteria at Perry Hall High School will be glad to hear of Steven's assessment of the meal and his new affinity for vegetables. After all, the lunches were prepared in their cafeteria, nearly seven miles away.
They make the lunches for students at the high school and for those at Kingsville and two other elementary schools, where the meals are shipped by truck just before mealtime in pre-heated or cold containers.
More than 3,000 students attend the four schools, and administrators estimate that between 40 percent and 50 percent of them buy the lunches each day.
"That's a lot of food . . . a lot of food," said Rufus Vernier, an area supervisor in the school system's food service department.
Lunch must be served at some of the schools as early as 10:25 a.m., so cafeteria manager Edna Layfield and some of her staff arrive at 7 a.m. to start things cooking. By 10 a.m. there are nearly 20 people at work chopping, slicing, shredding, wrapping, dicing and dipping.
"I leave here exhausted, but I'm ready to get up in the morning and do it all over again," said Mrs. Layfield, who has worked in county school cafeterias for 32 years. "It is extremely fast-paced. You have to like kids to do this."
Menus for the county schools are planned under the direction of dietitian Katherine Chin. Among the considerations are students' likes and dislikes, which foods are in season and whether they are visually appealing.
Even so, proteins, vegetables, fruit, bread and milk are on every menu, Mrs. Chin said.
When a new menu item is under consideration, a pilot school is chosen and students there serve as the testers, she said.
A favorite seems to be pizza, and Mrs. Chin admitted that most students could do without seeing vegetables on their plates.
At Kingsville, there were reports that the hot dogs on Monday's ** menu didn't go over too well with parents who had joined their children for lunch.
But yesterday, Janet Kusterer , a parent who joined her son Nathan for a lasagna lunch, was pleased with the menu there.
"I was surprised!" she said. "It's good!"