Teacher lunch habits are a direct reflection of school culture and climate. I’ve worked in situations with isolated and independent lunch, occasional required lunch meetings, random meetings for lunch, and intentional and essentially sacred group lunches.
In my experience, a staff that eats together is more likely to plan and reflect together as well as enjoy each other’s company on a daily basis. A staff that closes their individual doors and eats in solitude tends to plan and reflect in the same manner. After experiencing a culture where communal eating is all but expected, I don’t think I could go back.
I cherish lunch. I look forward to sitting down with my coworkers, talking about the day, our families, and classrooms each and every day. The simple pleasure of coming to work and enjoying the people that you work with in addition to your students is underrated. I can guarantee that any future job interviews will involve questions about workplace meals and climate.
Every Tuesday, a member of our Science Department makes lunch for the other 14 members. This practice is a critical part of our department’s culture; it is one of the first things we share with new department members. We try to give them as much notice about lunch planning as possible and often let them go last each semester so they can see what other people are cooking.
Tuesday Lunch is something that I look forward to each week. I love eating something new, hearing where the recipe is from, and sharing the experience with my colleagues. Whether you are lucky enough to have a “work family” or just a group of teachers that are friendly acquaintances, lunch brings people together.
Changing Your Lunch Culture
Creating a friendly workplace environment for educators isn’t something that happens by snapping your fingers. While shifting to or constructing a more collaborative lunch community is a major paradigm shift, the benefits are significant for teachers as well as their students.
When teachers are happy and engaged, students tend to be happy and engaged. Once my students realized that we cook for each other on Tuesdays, they started to ask who was cooking and what they were making. They were so surprised to learn that we enjoy eating lunch together!
Additionally, while lunch doesn’t have to be about teaching, the best PD is always down the hall. The teachers that surround you on a daily basis inherently understand the students and the climate in which you are teaching.
Small Steps to Help You Shake Up Lunch
Don’t Want to Cook? Have Lunch Delivered
Set out a menu, order spreadsheet (Name, order, special directions, amount paid), and cash envelope (cost of lunch + tip) in the morning. Have someone with a planning period place the order to be delivered 10-15 minutes prior to the start of your lunch.
Coerce Your Department into Eating Together
It doesn’t take much to bring people together over food. Make a calendar of birthdays (and half-birthdays for summer babies) and assign a department member to bring a celebratory dessert that day. Do something simple, like make dessert on a random Wednesday and ask people to have lunch in your room and share the brownies (box brownies count, especially Ghiradelli mix from Costco).
Start Small: Cook for Your PLC
Do you need to discuss a lesson or reteaching? Struggling to find time to analyze assessment data together? Cook lunch for your PLC and buy yourself some time to work together on a small project.
Cook for Your Department in Pairs
Create a schedule where pairs of people cook lunch together every other week or once a month. Cooking lunch for your peers can be intimidating and cooking with a partner can alleviate stress and make department lunch more enjoyable.
Invite Someone Special
Make it an event. Invite administration, the secretarial or custodial staff, the guidance department, your co-teacher, or even your spouse to join in for lunch. Make someone’s day, get to know them a little better, and thank them for their work.
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: Cook for/Eat with Another Department
Pair up with a department or planning team with the same lunch and schedule a couple of dates to have lunch together. We pair up with the math and world language departments a couple times a year to just eat together in our offices or the faculty lounge, and sometimes one department cooks for the other as well.
Tips for a Seamless Lunch
While the greatest challenge is initially getting everyone to the proverbial table, there are a few things you can do to make lunch with your coworkers a little easier.
- Survey others for allergies, dietary restrictions, or major food dislikes and post these with the schedule. The major allergy we work with is dairy; we also have a vegetarian. You don’t want anyone to feel sick or left out as the result of a dietary restriction, so read your food labels carefully and ask them if there are any common mistakes that home cooks make when it comes to their allergies. For example, most store bought tomato sauce includes cheese which could pose a problem for those that are lactose-intolerant.
- Create a schedule for the entire school year before classes begin. We have 15 people so every one cooks once each semester with a few group meals thrown in. Sometimes we set up the calendar in alphabetical or birthday order first semester, and then do the reverse second semester. Cooking for 15 requires planning ahead, so let teachers know their date in advance.
- Think ahead about plates, silverware, and serving utensils. You don’t want to make soup only to realize that there are no ladles and that you’ll be serving it with regular spoons or by dipping bowls into the pot.
- The Crockpot is likely your best friend if you do not have a stovetop or oven. I have two crockpots that I often use at the same time when making lunch, even though we have a stovetop and an oven!
- If you decide to make dessert part of your routine, it’s ok to buy something at the store! There is no reason to make everything from scratch, unless that is something you would genuinely enjoy!
What to Make for Lunch?
- Baked Potato Bar. These can be make in the oven or the slow cooker, with white potatoes or sweet potatoes, and the ideas for toppings are practically endless. This is a great one if you have a variety of allergies, since people can just add the toppings they want!
- Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar. Indulge your inner child with assorted jelly, fancy peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, and Nutella!
- Taco Bar. Meat, beans, peppers and onions, lettuce, cheese, salsa, guacamole, tortilla chips. Done. If you’re still feeling uncertain, Pinterest can help.
- Lasagna, Salad, and Bread. Start here if it’s your first time making lasagna, or try a festive and vegetarian fall version or a paleo lasagna.
- Crockpot Ramen. If you have an adventurous crowd, make the flavorful pork in a crockpot, lay out toppings, and simply pour the broth from the crockpot over the ramen and wait a few minutes.
- Soup, Salad and Bread. I love Chicken and Wild Rice as well as this Olive Garden copycat. When we get together with another department, we make 4-5 crockpots of soup and bring in salad fixings so everyone can make their own side salad.
- Breakfast for lunch, always a hit. Make an egg casserole, get some fresh fruit, throw together a crockpot of sausage gravy and some biscuits, or bring in a griddle to make pancakes!
Share your experience with school lunch and how it impacts school culture in the comments!