What do you remember about the food served in your high school lunchroom? Was the food good, or did it include mystery meat and surprise casserole?
Back in 1978-1981, my good friends Amelia, Leigh Ann and I attended Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City (“Eleck” City to the locals), as I have mentioned several times in this column. Back in those days, the BRHS lunchroom had three choices for students: a salad bar, a regular lunch (Amelia said, “That’s usually where the mystery meat came in; no one much wanted it”) and an a la carte fast food line which included pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs and French fries.
Amelia remembered that I ate at the salad bar a lot; funny, I mainly remember eating pizza.
When Amelia ate in the lunch room, she liked the fast food line, as did most of the students.
Leigh Ann remembered that the food was too greasy for her; however, she and Amelia loved the chocolate milkshakes. I had forgotten about those, but I’m sure I jumped on them, too.
Amelia also pointed out that there were machines that had sodas as well as sweet and salty treats readily available for consumption.
Looking back, I realize that these weren’t the healthiest foods to eat, especially for a “Pooh-sized” future diabetic such as myself. These days, school lunchrooms follow nutritional guidelines, so healthier foods are being served, and the Lee County School System is serving up some delicious dishes for the approximately 9,200 students in its 14 schools.
Recently, my husband Mike and I participated in the Lee County Schools’ Taste Test of some “new items and menu favorites.” The event was held at Beauregard High School.
Mike and I loved the hand painted “The Hungry Hive Café” over the door of the lunchroom.
Also, the room was very bright, roomy and welcoming.
We chatted with Krystal Patterson, who has been the director of Child Nutrition for the Lee County School System for seven years. She was so helpful, kind and patient, answering all of my questions.
Mike and I also enjoyed meeting Chef Jason Haywood, who has been the cafeteria manager at Beauregard High School since 2015. Previously, from 2004 to 2015, he was a baker at Sanford Middle School.
Haywood, who was so friendly and helpful, said, “I wouldn’t work anywhere else. Our kids and our school are the best.” He also mentioned the students’ food preferences. “We could serve Mexican dishes every day; the kids love them. Also, they love Cajun dishes, such as gumbo.”
In addition, Mike and I met Richard Brown Jr., the principal of BHS. Like Patterson and Haywood, Mr. Brown made us feel very welcome and was so kind. Mr. Brown is in his fifth year as principal; before him, his dad, Richard Brown. Sr. had been principal of the school for 40 years.
When the taste testing began, we were given a Taste Test Sheet to rate the 14 items we would be sampling. The food items included: cheese sticks with marinara sauce, crispitoes, lemon pepper chicken, ranch style whole potatoes, fresh broccoli and carrots with homemade ranch dressing, fresh fruit, chicken & sausage gumbo with rice, white bean chicken chili, chicken & cheese burrito wrap, Mexican-inspired pulled pork, Cuban-style black beans & rice, Mexicali corn, birthday cake cookies and spicy Doritos. Oh, my two times! Jason Haywood and his friendly staff really knocked it out of the park. The dishes were really flavorful and looked delectable. The students in the LCSS are blessed to have great lunch cuisine.
While all the food was wonderful, Mike’s favorites were the white bean chicken chili, chicken & cheese burrito wrap and the Mexican-inspired pulled pork. My favorites were the lemon pepper chicken, whole potatoes, chicken & cheese burrito wrap, Mexicali corn and the birthday cookie.
I would have gone back for seconds except for two things: 1. This was a “taste” test and not a “devour” test; 2. I didn’t want to embarrass Mike or our family.
I would like to thank Krystal Patterson, Jason Haywood and Richard Brown, Jr. for their kind invitation and wonderful hospitality. All three of these good people obviously love their kids, school system and community. That really warms this retired teacher’s heart.
If your children are in the Lee County School System, know that they are being fed nutritious as well as delicious food.
Lee County Schools’ new and favorite lunch items get an A+ from this retired English teacher. Remember, “Pooh-sized” people NEVER lie about food. Enjoy!

Stacey Patton Wallace, who retired from teaching language arts for 30 years, is a professional diner. Her column, “Making the Grade,” will appear every other week in The Observer. Stacey may be reached at