Last week provided me with an opportunity that I don’t often have: I got to cook for children. Not just a few mind you, but dozens, thanks to my church’s annual vacation Bible school.
The folks at King of Kings Lutheran like to hold the summertime classes in the evening, so parents can take part if they wish. And we started each evening with a free meal so they could share a few moments together without having to cook.
So a group of us took over the kitchen to prepare meals that were hot, nutritious and, we hoped, tasty.
It wasn’t gourmet cuisine. Kids not tall enough to see over our kitchen counter are not interested in anything too different or strange.
It wasn’t too complicated, either. In this heat, no one wants to slave over a stove, even one with air conditioning.
The first night was meant to be easy, a great way of breaking the food crew into a routine. According to our prepared menu, we were to serve already-assembled pizzas along with salad, fruit and homemade cookies. Frozen fruit pops were to be a cooling snack later.
Thankfully, most of us started early that evening because there were a few bumps. The Vulcan oven takes forever to heat up, as does the six-foot-tall warmer; so preparing the pizzas always seemed to be a step behind where we wanted to be. The salad had frozen in the refrigerator and looked like nothing anyone would eat. The frozen treats weren’t frozen. Our junior assistant, Kalyn Campbell, had an accident while trying to take water out to the playground.
But we never let anyone see us sweat.
The crispy crust of the pizza won over the crowd. We found enough fresh salad to salvage and served it up with plenty of carrots, grape tomatoes and ranch dressing to satisfy all. And by rearranging the pops in the freezer, just barely enough were ready to serve as snacks by the end of the evening. We also refilled the water cooler before the first child on the playground got thirsty.
We never had a leader. Everyone just seemed to find a spot to fill each evening. On Monday, we served hot dogs and Frito pie – and to our amazement, the kids went wild for the Frito pie. Demand was so great, I had to run to the store for extra chili. And that wasn’t as easy as it sounds, either. Who knew that in August, a supermarket would be low on large cans of chili? But that’s what happened at the nearby H-E-B on Nacogdoches and O’Connor.
Tuesday was the first of a three-day run on pasta. We served spaghetti with tomato sauce or butter, along with salad, fruit and cookies. We were still having problems with frozen lettuce, but after careful scrutiny, we made sure it wasn’t entirely noticeable.
Wednesday’s menu was a problem, however. It was supposed to have been hamburgers, but we balked at that idea. None of us wanted to grill hamburgers when it was 105 degrees outside. And we didn’t want to heat up the kitchen with grilling them After some careful thought, we came up with a revised menu all could agree on: chicken nuggets with blue box macaroni and cheese. The nuggets were a hit, and as long as we had ketchup on hand, the teen helpers were especially fond of the mac and cheese. That’s right, ketchup on mac and cheese. Who knew?
We decided to move the salad around in the refrigerator, making sure it didn’t touch the walls. That helped, as there was no frozen the lettuce on Thursday when we turned up to make linguine with chicken alfredo, garlic bread, salad, canned peaches and dessert. Except no one brought cookies for dessert.
No dessert? We found some Little Debbie snacks in the kitchen pantry and filled a tray. They ran out quickly, but not as quickly as the canned peaches, which sent us searching several times for more cans.
Friday’s closing was the least of our worries. It was a day of leftovers and sandwiches, only light snacks before the closing program, which is a prelude for the big event: ice cream sundaes to finish off VBS in style. The mad dash for sundaes was a bit overwhelming for a few moments, but the excitement from all of the kids and their parents was contagious, making us feel great about our week of fellowship and fun.
I want to thank my colleagues, including Melissa Fiedler, Becky Domel, Jeanine Johnson, Lori Killian, Desi Mosmeyer and Jan Hadley as well as all of the folks who helped with trash detail, sweeping and staying late to make sure every last assistant had a bottle of water or an extra frozen pop to keep them refreshed while teaching. Special thanks to Kalyn for her boundless energy and enthusiasm. It helped.
And thanks to all those who ate our meals. We hope you enjoyed them as much as we enjoyed preparing them.
Most of all, I want to thank a small boy whose name I don’t know but who taught me a valuable lesson. He appeared to be no more than 4 (though he could have been 7 — I’m at the age where I can no longer tell the difference: They all look too young). One night, he was standing next to the salad table and noticed the plate of sliced mushrooms we had. “What’s that?” he asked.
“Oh, no,” I said to myself, “a picky eater.” I told him that it was a mushroom and that it went on salad.
He popped a slice into his mouth, chewed it up and swallowed. “Tastes a little like ham,” he said. Then he reached for more.
Bless all the curious eaters and may they always have the courage to try something new.