When lunch begins, there’s often a hubbub of ravenous kids in the lunch line pushing and shoving to snatch a slice of pepperoni pizza or a plate of pasta. Feeding empty stomachs is chaotic enough, but with the new bell schedule for this school year, the cafeteria workers are facing some additional challenges.
Compared to the previous years, brunch and lunch will be taking place at a later time. As a result, Food Services Manager Debbie Herrera is now attempting different methods to cater to the students who arrive as early as 6:30 a.m. and might not have had breakfast yet. According to Herrera, the later brunch time means that these kids will likely be more hungry.
“I’m trying to figure out a grab and go [system] for them in the morning or maybe in between 9:00 a.m. to the next class,” Herrera said. “Something you [can] just [grab and go] like a protein bar and a milk or a fruit.”
Along with the fact that brunch takes place at a later time in the day, Herrera feels that students may not be hungry by lunch time because there is only one hour and 40 minutes between brunch and lunch as opposed to the previous gap of one hour and 55 minutes, leading to a decreased number of students buying lunch.
In addition to these major scheduling changes, the cafeteria will no longer offer free water bottles with the purchase of a meal. According to Herrera, since the implementation of free water bottles last year, the cafeteria went through approximately 40 cases of water bottles a week. In order to help reduce the school’s plastic bottle waste, free water bottles will no longer be included with meals. However, the cafeteria will still offer water bottles for purchase as it is a state requirement.
“There’s a lot of recycled water bottles in the oceans causing contamination. Animals are dying [because] they’re eating this stuff,” Herrera said. “So that’s why we’re going to help with that.”
In addition to requiring cafeterias to sell water bottles, the state imposes a set of health requirements that the cafeteria staff has to take into consideration. For example, when determining new menu items and snack options, Herrera has to use a nutritional calculator, which determines whether or not a food item is compliant with the USDA’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards. Since the new health requirements promote healthier food options, Herrera has integrated more organic ingredients in meal preparation.
“We never had fresh vegetables [or hard boiled eggs] in the morning,” Herrera said. “Every year, the whole state regulations, everything new comes out. Now we have to cut back the sodium [and the pastas]. You got to have a whole grain pasta or 50-50, your fried rice has to be 50-50 half white, half brown.”
Although Herrera supports the new additions to the menu, there are certain elements she misses from her past years at the cafeteria. For example, she recalls how the original cafeteria, before the remodeling, allowed her to serve students much faster. Now, she has to run around a lot more. Thus, in order to keep the cafeteria staff enthusiastic, cook Elizabeth Garcia will often play Zumba music in the back of the kitchen. For Food Services worker Margie Sanborn, the music allows her to move a little faster as she helps Garcia cook up the fried rice or chop up the vegetables.
“To me, we’re always having fun in here,” Sanborn said. “When we start cooking, we have our music. Those are the things that I missed when we [were] off [on summer break].”
Like Sanborn, Food Service worker Jaime Davis also missed the team and is interested to see whether the cafeteria staff will take away or add something a little different to the menu this year.
“[The cafeteria will] try a new entree like pasta and see if the kids like that,” Davis said. “The cook tries to be creative with the foods.”
Despite wanting to change up the menu, the cafeteria staff plans to ensure that popular menu items, like the pizza and ice cream, don’t run out. However, there will be more vegetarian options available for students and staff members. According to Herrera, there are more vegetarians this year than in the last three years — in fact, even some of the teachers are vegetarians.
Ultimately, while the people that enter the cafeteria’s doors may change each year, Herrera has seen how the new freshmen always tend to be a little shy and unsure of how to purchase the food at first. She looks forward to the new year because of the new freshmen faces she will see and form relationships with. By the time they get to their senior year, Herrera acknowledges how much they’ve grown.
“I think the freshmen that came three years ago [are] juniors now. And they’re tall,” Herrera said, “I remember them as freshmen. Very shy. It’s interesting. You grow with the kids. You know who they are. They’re family.”