What's on the elementary school menu?
Monday: Chicken noodle soup with toasted cheese sandwich, broccoli with ranch dip, fresh apple and milk.
Tuesday: Country fried steak with gravy, mashed potatoes, green beans, homemade roll and milk.
Wednesday: Barbecue pork sandwich, sweet potato fries, mixed fruit, chocolate frozen yogurt cup and milk.
Thursday: Turkey pot pie, fresh garden salad, strawberries, juice bar and milk.
Friday: Honey barbecue tenders, rice pilaf, steamed broccoli, apricot cup and milk.
If you thought planning and budgeting meals for your family was tough, try feeding a family of more than 15,500 kids on less than $3 per meal.
That’s what Rockdale County Public School’s Director of Food Services Peggy Lawrence and her team do every day.
Between breakfast, lunch and snacks, Lawrence and her food services team serve over 3 million meals a year in the school district. The cost for lunch is about $2.64, which includes everything from labor, supplies for dishwasher, and shoes for lunch ladies, etc.
"We’re not just feeding (the students), we’re also teaching them," said Lawrence. "Recently, this school year, we’ve done a lot with blueberries, and a lot of our kids have never had blueberries. They don’t know what a blueberry is," says Lawrence. Adding, "that’s something that I believe in really strongly; we need to teach kids about real food. It’s not just about everything packaged."
Rockdale County schools prepare a lot of food from scratch, like spaghetti. This type of cooking calls for a certain quality of employees to prepare the food. "The most touching moments in my job have always centered around ‘my ladies’ and their never-ending compassion for students and each other," said Lawrence.
The native mid-westerner has a strong background in food. Originally from Hayfield, Minn., her family owned two grocery stores and a bakery, where she first learned to cashier while standing on a milk crate to reach the register. Her grandparents first opened the grocery store in 1941, and in the 1970s her father took over the business. Lawrence worked in all facets of the operations — from grinding hamburger to frosting cinnamon rolls. Lawrence relocated to Georgia in 1996, after finishing her Bachelor of Science at the University of Minnesota. She started working for Marriott Corporate Services and even catered for the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta. Lawrence later discovered her niche, when she was offered a job as a cafeteria manager for the Gwinnett County Schools. During her first year as a cafeteria manager, Lawrence started to pursue her Master of Education at the University of Georgia to qualify as a director. Georgia is one of the few states that require directors of food services to hold a master’s degree and an educator’s certificate through the Professional Standards Commission.
After moving to Rockdale, she completed her master’s and got the job as director.
A mother of two, Lawrence who calls herself a "foodie at heart," tries to involve her own children, Reed, 4, and Claire, 2, in cooking at home.
"I love what I call ‘real’ food — homemade food made with high quality ingredients. I love to bake and cook," she said.
An interesting fact: Lawrence does not allow bagged lettuce in her home or at the school. "I cannot stand the smell or taste of it. I am fairly choosy about what I buy — both at work and at home," she said.
Lawrence’s own favorite meal? Chicken tenders, au gratin potatoes, green beans and a homemade roll — comfort food that sticks to your ribs.
Lawrence has been serving as a National Spokesperson for School Nutrition for about two years and has been interviewed multiple times on television.
More information about the Rockdale County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Program, the foods and prices on the school menus and more can be found online at www.rockdale.k12.ga.us/C9/FoodServices/default.aspx.