By Robert Lucke
Debbie Otto has a great job. Or at least she is convinced it is. She is the food supervisor for all meals for the school system in Havre.
Think that is not much? Well, think again. That means that she supervises a staff of 20 and puts out from 800 to 1,000 meals each day that school is in session. Not only that, but there are 330 breakfasts served each day, as well.
For Otto, it all started in 1987.
"I applied for a job here in 1987," Otto said. "I had kids in school and I thought it would be wonderful to have weekends and summers off with my children."
Otto had worked as a waitress around town and as a short order cook at Taco Treat.
"I started as a cook's helper and now I am the supervisor of the food service," she said.
Prices are reasonable at $1.35 for students and $1.75 for adults. And at that, there are lots of reduced meal prices, according to Otto.
How can they sell them so cheap? One reason is government commodities. Otto said that not only are they helpful but Havre school people can pick and choose what they think will be good for this system.
The breakfasts might include things like waffles and ham with fruit and milk.
"We get about the same kids every day for breakfast," Otto said. "But when wrestling and basketball seasons come around, we get lots more because kids have breakfast after morning practices."
Lunch is innovative at Havre High. A far cry from the days of hot lunch consisting of pork and gravy over noodles.
"We have a hot lunch main line which consists of an entre and two side dishes," Otto said. "Then there is an a la carte line which might include ice cream, chips, a hot entre, nachos, things that have to have food value but more choice. And there is a third line, a soup and salad bar as another alternative."
Not only that, but bakers show up at 5 a.m. each morning to make sure that all breads served that day are freshly baked.
What sells best at Havre High? You might guess. In the entre department, it is pizza, hot ham and cheese, tacos, hot chicken sandwiches, chicken nuggets, nacho supremes and, surprisingly, Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and gravy.
"Now days we are competing with Taco Johns, Rod's and McDonald's," Otto said. "And we try to give kids enough to eat for a good value and we are into nutrition, too."
The cooks at the high school are always looking for new menus to cook. Kids get tired of the same thing, no matter how good it is, and they even request new foods, Otto said.
"Just last Friday, we had a tuna and noodle casserole," Otto said. "It seemed to go over quite well and today we had chicken a la king, which we hadn't had before. It went over fairly well, but you know everything we learn says that with a new meal it takes seven times for the kids to decide if they like it or not."
Most jobs have ups and downs not this one for Otto.
"I have no complaints. Everything is the best part. I really like it all," Otto said, laughing.
Only one thing can ruin her day.
"Sometimes when the weather is bad and the produce truck is late and we have to make a substitution for the day, that is bad," Otto said. "And I guess the worst of all is when the produce truck doesn't come at all. The kids really love their salads."
All time best breakfast served at Havre High? No contest at all, Otto said. It is waffles with strawberry sauce and maybe ham to go with it.
All time best lunches are a toss up between nachos supreme and pizza.
"We can never serve too much pizza and nachos," she said with a laugh.
Havre Public School students eat well and that is thanks to a dedicated crew headed by the lady who loves to cook for kids.