The Secret Life of Nutritionists

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It takes a lot of skill to be a school nutritionist. Dealing with constant dietary needs, demands of spoiled students, and angry remarks made by consumers is something most of us could never handle anywhere – let alone in South Eugene High School’s hectic cafeteria.

“I hear a lot of swearing in the lines here,” said School Nutritionist Anne Lettkeman. “I can’t really get in on the gossip, though, because when they see me coming they begin to whisper.”

In the South cafeteria, students can be most often found trying to get through the lunch line more quickly than anything else. Our school cafeteria offers different lunches that range from sandwiches and hamburgers to tacos and salads.

“I like the food we serve,” Lettkeman said. “We don’t even plan the menus here. There is a nutritionist downtown who really plans everything that we will serve. But if there is something on that menu that I know that students will not eat whatsoever, I tweak it.”

The nutritionists that we have are not the only ones who try to tweak menus. Students at South have been known to modify their meals in order to fit their desires — even if it is taken to the extreme.

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A student grabs a slice of olive pizza at the food bar. The nutritionists serving the dishes often tweak the recipes to make them more palatable to students.

“The weirdest combination I think I’ve seen,” Lettkeman said, “is someone putting hummus on everything — and I mean everything.”

The cafeteria workers that we have at South are a big part of our daily lives, whether we realize their overall impact on us or not. This is the food that keeps us going throughout our long, tedious school days in which we are plagued with hunger. Whether we like or dislike the food that South provides for us, we cannot deny that it is something we can always count on, thanks to our amazing, dedicated school nutritionists. Unfortunately, the amazing staff we have in our cafeteria are often underappreciated.

“I guess the one thing I dislike is when people use the term ‘lunch lady’ in a derogatory manner,” said Lettkeman. “Sometimes they’ll say something like ‘What can you do? You’re just a lunch lady,’ and I want to tell them that I’m more than what they think.”

In reality, getting all of the food ready on time for South’s schedule is tough. One small mistake could cause the students at South to go hungry – especially if some students are not able to get food any other way.

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According to the government description of the job, the position of a school cafeteria worker is one that “does not require any experience and rarely requires more than a high school diploma,” but the job is not one that can be easily taken up by just anyone.

In fact, Lettkeman said, “I went to college for nutrition, and even though I didn’t have to, it helped me get ready for what this job requires.”

Being a school nutritionist requires crucial qualities, and if one is without them, it will force those qualities to develop almost instantaneously.

“The biggest pressure I have is getting the food ready on time,” Lettkeman said. “Other than that, flexibility is the biggest quality I need. If I’m not flexible, something will always go wrong. I can’t expect everything to go my way.”

“The food we serve varies for how it needs to be made. Sometimes it is made every day, other times it is made once a week,” she added.

Lettkeman, who says she has “been here too long to make horrible mistakes,” is a leader behind the counter and makes sure that students are getting what they need.

After working here for four years, Lettkeman expressed her love for working at South.

“So far, I haven’t found anything that makes me dislike South,” she said. “The best part of all of this is watching the kids grow up through the phases and fads that we experience. It’s like I’m watching their lives take place through a TV screen.”

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