Kitchn Love Letters

I’m a Teacher, and This Frozen Lunch Makes Me Miss in-Person School Just a Little Bit Less

published Feb 15, 2021
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Refrigerator, with freezer door opened. Food in freezer has been neatly organized. On the fridge door the freezer inventory checklist is hanging.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

I am a teacher at a New York City school that usually offers an amazing school lunch. (I recognize that it is a privilege to have school lunch, and even more so to have lots of choices.) Before the pandemic descended last spring, my coworkers and I would traipse to the cafeteria for crispy chicken fingers (which were only offered on Fridays). We’d grab a paper boat of chicken and head to the salad bar to pile our plates full of veggies and lettuce. We’d then slather it all in the school’s creamy, herby, made-from-scratch ranch dressing, laughing about how silly it felt to be excited about chicken fingers as full-fledged adults. 

My school went online last March and has been virtual ever since, which means no more Chicken Finger Fridays. My new routine consists of only leaving the house when absolutely necessary and making all our meals at home. Desperately in need of something to make things feel normal, I happened upon Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips while on a Target run. Out of nuggets at home, I threw them in my cart, hoping they might be something my kids would enjoy. Little did I know …

Credit: Carmen Keels

Buy: Tyson Crispy Chicken Strips, $8.39for 25 ounces at Target

Crispy and juicy, even after toasting or microwaving, they reminded me of Chicken Finger Fridays in the best way — and I don’t have to wait until Friday for them, either. Upon preparing these the first time, I realized they were just what I had been missing.

We fled New York for Ohio to stay with family for a while (after taking appropriate precautions) and my mom started making ranch dressing that rivaled my school’s secret recipe. Not only did I find my crispy chicken, but now I had the whole school lunch salad back! I frantically texted my friends from work to tell them to not only buy this chicken but also sent over my mom’s homemade ranch recipe so they could replicate the results too. (I won’t share her recipe with everyone, but Kitchn has one!)

Credit: Carmen Keels

While I originally thought these chicken fingers would be a saving grace when my kids needed a quick meal, or when my husband and I had Zoom conferences late into the evenings, they’ve become so much more than that. I’ll admit to keeping these crispy chicken bites for myself, though. (Sorry, kids and husband!) Because they transport me back to the school cafeteria where I spend my days doing what I love.

Do you have a favorite lunch providing you comfort or nostalgia right now? Let us know in the comments!