Aloha! Welcome to our Hawaiian Luau! We have a wonderful feast prepared just for you!
What’s that? You want to know the menu? I’ll happily oblige:
Can you feel your mouth watering? I know I can!
As I alluded to in my post about life as a clinical dietetics student, I am currently working in a high school cafeteria as part of my dietetics food service rotation. And, yes, I will say it: I have an increasing respect for the hair-netted lunch ladies of my youth. School food service is hard, yo. I think I have blisters on my blisters from chopping twenty pounds of carrots – I jest not.
Our main project for this rotation was to plan a theme lunch for 400 high school students: students who are used to eating hamburgers, fries, and pizza dippers (cheese-covered bread dipped in marinara sauce). My fellow classmates and I arbitrarily chose a Hawaiian Luau theme because it was first in the list when we did a Google search for “theme meals”. We’ve spent the last several weeks preparing for this meal (in between stuffing hundreds of lettuce cups and laying out countless rolls). Today: SHOWTIME!
As older and wiser folks in the school kitchen suggested, we prepped as many ingredients as possible the day prior. I think I opened about ten of these enormous cans with this old-school crank can opener. Since everyone else in the kitchen was busy, I tried to take a picture of myself with the can opener and subsequently showed off my awesome camera-aiming skillz.
I can tell this is attempt #12 or so because I’m no longer smiling for the camera. Also, I love those random legs dashing around the corner in the upper right corner of the picture.
We also decorated our serving station:
Simple, I know, but with a $0 decorating budget and dollar store paper streamers the only available decorating aid, we did the best we could. I think the station turned out quite well.
This morning, we arrived in the kitchen early and got right to work. Check out our Huli Huli Chicken!
We laid out and basted 12 pans, for a total of 420 pieces of chicken. The pans look impressive in the rack:
How about some sweet rolls?
The hardest task was making the Hawaiian rice – having never cooked for 400 people before, I thought we could just make the rice on the stove as we would for four people.
Yeah … no. Just imagine SIX of those pans filled with rice, and you can see why I panicked a little. Luckily, the head cook came to the rescue and popped our pans in the oven to bring the rice up to the proper temperature.
The meal itself, on attractive Styrofoam trays:
Huli Huli Chicken:
Sweet ‘n’ Sour Hawaiian Veggies:
Pina Colada Fruit Cup (my favorite!):
How did the kids like our meal?
While a few high schoolers glanced at our station, wrinkled their noses, and walked away, a lot of kids were curious about these three strange girls who were blasting Hawaiian music in their cafeteria. Some of the kids were drawn to the new smells ( “It smells so good here!” ), and one girl leaned over the station and asked us to please, PLEASE cook more of their lunch food. Good to hear!
My wonderful classmates, Bri and Nicole, serving with me on the cafeteria line:
Public school food service is particularly hard because the menus must be constructed within strict nutrition and price guidelines. For example, this high school charges $2.50 per meal, which means that each meal needs to be made for around that much. It sounds easy, but it’s not: the students’ price must cover not only the food and the staff salaries, but also administration, utilities, paper products, water, etc, etc. And, what if a major piece of equipment breaks?? The budget gets more complicated when you consider government subsidies, free vs. reduced price vs. full price lunch, etc. Like I said: school food service is hard. Yo. Perhaps I’ll do a future post about the school food service system in the U.S. versus pretty much anywhere else.
So, how about a recipe? I thought about sharing our Hawaiian Rice recipe, but after hand-mixing 400 portions of rice, my arms hurt just thinking about it. So, Huli Huli Chicken it is!
Huli Huli Chicken (High Schooler Approved!)
1 lb chicken breast, divided into four portions
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 inch ginger, minced
Dash Worcestershire sauce
This recipe is simple (thank goodness!): place chicken in pan. Mix remaining ingredients and brush over chicken. Bake or grill the chicken until cooked through (we baked our chicken). Before serving, heat the rest of the sauce and pour over the chicken. Note: You can also marinate the chicken in this sauce before cooking (which we obviously didn’t do). Make sure you heat the sauce up to >165 degrees F!
Time to go recover with a good night’s sleep!
Q: What were your school lunches like? Did you bring lunch or buy it? What’s your favorite school lunch memory?