Margaret Quandt serves a fresh-baked cinnamon roll at Kuemper Catholic High School during Thursday’s lunch period.
Margaret Quandt serves a fresh-baked cinnamon roll at Kuemper Catholic High School during Thursday’s lunch period.

February 16, 2015

Through 40 years of handwritten recipe books, one hot-lunch offering at Kuemper Catholic Schools has stayed the same — homemade cinnamon rolls and chili.

“It must be an Iowa thing,” food-service director Lynne Humphrey said of the pairing.

She grew up with it in Council Bluffs. Other Kuemper Catholic school officials and area residents recall eating the dish in Paton, Churdan and Gladbrook.  Kuemper Foundation director John Steffes recalls the combination appearing regularly on his own tray when he was a student at Holy Spirit.  

But it’s not on schools menus in Nebraska, Ohio or other Midwestern states, Humphrey observed.

She suspects that the combination started because the government sent the schools tons of flour, beans and tomatoes.

Decades later, the made-from-scratch meal remains a favorite among faculty, students and parents in the school system, she said.

“Kids are funny — some leave out the beans or the tomatoes,” activities director Tim Fitzpatrick said during lunch on Thursday, observing piles of veggies filling the silverware portion of the trays.

“The rolls are always gone, though,” he added. “They have no trouble eating the rolls.”

Humphrey starts the dough early in the morning when she first arrives in the kitchen. By the time the full kitchen staff arrives, the dough is raised and ready to roll.

The rolls start coming out of the oven about 20 minutes before the staff starts serving lunch. They are literally iced by hand — the staff dips a gloved hand into a bucket of homemade icing and smears it across the fresh rolls. It’s quicker and more-efficient than icing with a spatula, Humphrey said.

The meal is served about once a month. Last Thursday, Humphrey’s staff made 487 rolls and 35 gallons of chili in the high school kitchen.

“The cinnamon rolls are definitely very popular,” high school sophomore Evan Schettler said.

Crispitos — fried rolled cheese and beef burritos — and orange chicken are other popular menu items, he said.

Rolls and chili are even more popular when the weather is cold, added freshman Kalee Peter.

According to the National Weather Service, the temperature in Iowa reached a low of 3 degrees and a high of 16 degrees last Thursday.

At the elementary school level, cinnamon-roll-and-chili day is the most popular day for parents to visit the school and eat lunch with their children — Humphrey estimates that between 20 and 25 parents are in the cafeteria each month for the made-from-scratch meal.

Leftover cinnamon rolls are sold to students the next morning for breakfast — they go fast, she added.

The kitchens do offer a gluten-free cinnamon-roll alternative, Humphrey said.