Diane Sullivan isn't simply a lunch lady. She is known to the students and faculty at Jackson Elementary as “Chef Diane” and for good reason.
Sullivan makes sure lunch is more than a meal for the 118 students who come through her kitchen every day. It's an experience, whether the students are going through a haunted kitchen on Halloween or being told the kitchen is closed on April Fools' Day and having to come through the back door to get food.
This month, each of the eight classrooms at Jackson Elementary get to decide the menu for a day, which gives Sullivan the opportunity to learn more about the students and their likes and dislikes. . . even if that means the students request fruit loops and popsicles in one day.
“I'll add things to their meal if I don't think they have enough,” Sullivan said. “I just think it's fun. It gives me an idea of what they like.”
The meals must contain a meat, vegetable, fruit, grain or cereal and dessert. If the students vote on a meal that is overly sweet, for example, a cinnamon roll and ice cream, one of those will be the day's snack.
When asked whether or not she is nervous to see the menus students put together, Sullivan's response was immediate.
“Not one bit. I can do it,” she said. “I'm anxious to see what they chose. I love seeing them tear through the line so excited and say, 'This is my favorite meal.'”
Sullivan has been the head cook at Jackson Elementary for 15 years and she's been doing these lunchtime programs since she began.
A few other favorites include visiting other countries where Sullivan will prepare meals inspired by other places, such as brie cheese for France and sausage for Germany. The day before Christmas break, Sullivan makes every student their own sugar cookie and gives them a little dish of icing and decorations so they can design their own cookie. For Nebraska'a 150th year of statehood, she included food items in the menu that are synonymous with Nebraska, such as Runza.
“I just think it's a real fun job,” Sullivan said. “I enjoy it and the kids say the most fun things.”