POR: Janet Mossburg March 15, 2009

24 years later and still sacking lunches

Janet Mossburg struggled to get children to eat right so she brought in a machine that freezes healthy fruit juice and makes slushies and the kids love it.

Janet Mossburg said she hated packing lunches for her own kids.

So, it might seem a little odd that Mossburg has staked a 24-year career on creating menus and buying enough food to feed more than 22,000 students in School District 51.

“I’ve seen a few changes over the years,” Mossburg said.

After Grand Junction’s bust in the 1980s, Mossburg said she found herself, then a stay-at-home mom, needing to enter the workforce because her husband had lost work in the construction industry.

She took a job as a cook at Thunder Mountain Elementary and worked at several other schools as a lunch lady for three years.

“It was different,” said Mossburg of the food served to students then. “We did lots of scratch cooking.”

Mossburg said she and the other cooks made turkey gravy from scratch instead of ordering it in tubs, and fried chicken was a four-day process from preparing the birds to eventually breading and frying them.

Mossburg said she even remembers cooking as much as 300 to 400 pounds of raw ground beef at a time and needing a paddle similar to an oar to stir it.

“It wasn’t just opening a box and there’s your food,” she said. “There was a lot more work involved.”

Mossburg left the kitchens and worked her way to various managing positions. These days, she’s tasked with buying the maximum amount of food $400,000 will get and writing menus.

The students may still want the classics on their lunch trays such as mac and cheese, pizza and chicken nuggets, but Mossburg said she has seen many changes over her career.

For starters, she said, the food is healthier, and that mac and cheese will be made with low-fat cheese and the pizza crust with whole grains.

And the lunch lady stereotype has been busted, she said.

“We have many lunch gentlemen now,” Mossburg said. “A lot of them are retired military.”

Mossburg said the students these days are the “fast food generation.” Where families once were sitting down to meals more often and moms were packing lunches regularly, now students want whole meals packed into a sandwich, Mossburg said, and it’s “grab and go.”

“I meet kids that don’t know what a cucumber is,” she said. “They’ve never seen one.”

So Mossburg said her job keeps her in schools educating students on the importance of nutrition as well.

One thing that hasn’t changed in 24 years is Mossburg’s love of her job.

“I never intended this to be a career, but I love what I do,” she said. “My grandma worked in a cafe and she always said I’d be a cook. I guess she was right.”


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