Spring Grove students eating up Mexican fare

On a given day, the food at the Spring Grove Elementary
cafeteria is much like the fare at a Mexican restaurant.
On a given day, the food at the Spring Grove Elementary cafeteria is much like the fare at a Mexican restaurant.

Featured items include enchiladas, tamale pies, tacos, meaty nachos, taco salads, burritos – all courtesy of the home-style cooking of Anna Lopez, Spring Grove’s food service manager.

And the students and staff are eating it up.

“All I can tell you is the food is incredible,” said Spring Grove Principal Susan Delatorre, whose favorite of Lopez’s dishes is arroz con leche, a sweet rice breakfast dish. “The children enjoy the climate that Anna sets and the food that’s presented.”

Delatorre and staff members love Lopez’s cooking almost too much and sometimes have difficulty turning it down.

“We’re all trying to diet, so having Anna around makes us forget about our diet,” said school secretary Hilda Perez.

Lopez uses old family recipes learned from her grandmother such as pork with chili and albondigas, a Mexican meatball soup that students and staff especially enjoy. Each Mexican meal is usually accompanied by fresh salsa made by Lopez.

“The albondigas is my family recipe,” Lopez said. “Everybody makes a different albondigas different and that’s my grandmas recipe.”

Lopez cooks breakfast and lunch – which sometimes includes breakfast burritos and arroz con leche – for up to 300 students and staff daily. After breakfast, Lopez and assistant Esther Esqueda have about 90 minutes to whip out lunch.

Yet the lunch menu isn’t always homemade Mexican fare. French-bread pizza was the order of the day Friday as children eagerly swarmed around the lunch area, many requested that carrots not be included on their tray.

“The only vegetable they go wild for is mashed potatoes, and I wouldn’t consider that a vegetable,” Lopez said.

On average, Lopez cooks one of her Mexican recipes once a week, sometimes twice. She feels the students wouldn’t enjoy more than that.

“We wouldn’t get much participation if they did that. They want their hot dogs and corn dogs. You don’t want them to throw their food away, you want them to eat it,” Lopez said. “We had pizza twice this week. We didn’t want to do that but it makes them happy.”

Lopez learned her cooking skills as a young girl. Growing up in a family of eight children, she helped her mother cook as much as she could. She learned many recipes from her grandmother, who in turn learned them from previous generations.

She began working for Spring Grove School as a custodian six years ago. During that time she worked part time at Fremont School as food service manager. When that position opened at Spring Grove, Lopez made an easy transition.

During her first year she solicited input from students, parents and staff on what to serve. Now she has a schedule established.

“I encourage feedback from the students – although they’d probably be happy with pizza every day,” Lopez said.

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