An invitation to lunch

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By Donna Kelly, Illustration by Kate Woods

Every teacher looks forward to summer break, however there may be a daily break more precious…lunchtime!  Lunchtime for teachers is what I consider a thirty-five minute “mini vacation.”  It’s our midday opportunity to check in at the main office, call a parent, review e-mails, or maybe eat a power bar on the go.

As sacred as it is, once a month I forgo my “mini vacation” and chose to do the unthinkable.  I host a luncheon in my classroom and dine with my students!  Lunching with the children is an important opportunity for me to connect with them personally and see what is going on in their lives. It is a time to forget about math and reading comprehension and simply enjoy each other’s company and a healthy lunch! A week prior to my special luncheon, I send out formal written invitations:

Master Graham Martin
Your Presence is Requested to Lunch

Wednesday, September 16, 2009
12:00 Noon
Classroom 14

Most of my students come from at-risk, disadvantaged homes where sit down meals with their families are rare.  Frequently they have their breakfast, lunch and snacks during school hours. Knowing these facts, it only seems natural (and fun!) to provide them with a unique dining experience.

On the day of the luncheon I take the time to transform a classroom table with a special tablecloth, individual place cards and centerpieces of fresh flowers from my garden.  With these simple changes, the tone is set for the children to share a wonderful meal with their teacher and friends!  Lunching with the children also allows me to talk about the importance of healthy foods as well as discussions about table manners and what should and shouldn’t be done during meals.

In recent years, there has been a large push for wellness in the public schools which I highly advocate. Across the nation, school lunch programs have been using healthier ingredients,  such as whole foods, and including a daily selection of fruit and vegetables which the children cannot refuse.

One of the goals of lunching with the kids is to talk about the importance of healthy eating.  Some students bring their lunch from home and others chose the daily meal from the school cafeteria.  This lends itself to some interesting conversations about who has the most healthy lunch items.  I also provide something healthy to sample which I hope will encourage the children to expand their taste palates. I try to stick with fruits and vegetables grown locally.

There are often discussions about where the foods grow, how they taste, their texture and what fun recipes could be made with each.  Sometimes the lunch tasting is not well received, but as long as they try the selection, I am happy. I love empowering the children to make smart choices regarding foods that fuel their bodies and brains. My hope is that they will be motivated to enjoy a healthy diet and lifestyle that will carry on into their futures.

These simple lunch gatherings afford me the opportunity to do something around mealtime that makes the children feel special and important. A private meal creates a friendly learning atmosphere between teachers and students that is safe, interesting and fun. Sharing lunch with my students has also reminded me why I do what I do. I believe little things make a difference in a child’s life. If we all did a little thing here and there, like sharing a special lunch, then the message to our children and students would be, “I care about you in every way and enjoy spending time with you!”

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Reader Comments:


What an awesome teacher! Kudos to her for going above and beyond by caring for her little ones. They must really feel special. And what a learning opportunity on healthy eating. She has my vote for "teacher of the year"!

By Tanya on September 06, 2012


I really like Donna Kelly's "An Invitation to Lunch". Good teachers are a true blessing! A next door neighbor had an occassional "formal" dinner with her young family. She invited me one time when my husband was out of town. It was delightful! The children were on extra good behavior and so polite. And so cute, to see the littler ones deal with all the formal silver setting and footed wine glasses for their lemonade. She told me about a time when the littlest one fell asleep at the table.

By Bonnie Sweitzer on December 28, 2010

That is just about the sweetest story I have ever read….if we had more teachers like you, taking such a wonderful interest in our children at school, the world would be a much better place!
As the Mom of a third grader, thank you for all you do for children, they are very lucky and blessed to have you!  I hope your kindness is returned to you tenfold!!

By Sherry on November 10, 2010

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Paula, I love watching you and your family. I miss seeing your show, I watched you everyday. My son lives in Charleston S.C. He took me to the Lady & Sons to eat. Oh my goodness! People are always telling me that I look just like the cooking lady Paula Deen. I always tell them that you are my hero. May God Bless You Mary Ann
Mary Ann Tharp in A Summer of Burgers on August 15, 2014 at 10:48 pm

Add a few spoonfuls of parmesan cheese to the flour and cornmeal breading and it kicks the tomatoes up another notch. Bev
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I just bought Paula's Peach Salad Dressing and wondered if anyone has a good recipe that they use it in?
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Congrats Bobby. Loved the family picture miss you Paula on TV will be watching online. Jack is getting big. Looks like his mom but Matt aka moose has your face. Your eyes cheeks hair even falls to his face like yours except to the left. Good luck on your next venture. You give us other 60+ yr women strength to move on. Keep up the good work.
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