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A day in the life of a ‘Lunch Lady’

Clark’s cafeteria staff works hard to bring health food to the table

Ani Sarkisyan

Ani Sarkisyan

Cafeteria manager Zaruhi Gezalyan gets ready for the lunch rush.

Ani Sarkisyan, Clark Magnet High School

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They may not be seen around the school when the buses arrive in the morning, but they are the undercover heroes who fill our stomachs every time lunch approaches. These people are known as the lunch ladies. As a group of eight, they serve the students and try to add a bit of humor into their stressful school day.

Zaruhi Gezalyan, Clark’s cafeteria manager, comes to work at 6:30 a.m., along with the head cook, Ida Isayan. Even if a student doesn’t eat at the cafeteria, they will know who Gezalyan is. She is the positive and cheerful woman who usually greets everyone by saying, “Take your fruit and juice.” She, along with the cook and six cafeteria workers, makes it possible for students to have a healthy meal during school.

“Not enough students eat at school,” Gezalyan said. “If anybody tries our food once, they will continue to come.” Clark’s cafeteria serves over 30 different food options every month. Each time the bulletin is released, the top of the page lists the meal options of the day. This usually consists of seven different dishes, along with the daily fruit and vegetable selection. Though there are many options to choose from, some students still find that they don’t like cafeteria food.

“I personally don’t like what they offer,” said junior Louise Aslanyan. According to an article by the USDA Food and Nutrition Services, out of all of the students that participate in the National School Lunch Program, only 56 percent of them will eat school lunch on a typical day. Isayan said that the children who don’t eat school lunch have not tried it yet. “We eat everything that we serve, so of course it has to be delicious,” Isayan said. Although many students avoid the school lunches, others find it delicious. The lunch menu has recently been revamped with the addition of kale soup. “I actually like it,” said senior Vanessa Lujan as she ate the soup during lunch.

According to Arline Hakopian, a Clerk Typist III at GUSD Nutrition Services department, on March 9, 9,671 meals were served throughout all of the schools in the district and 378 meals were served at Clark. Clark currently has 1,103 students, which means that on this day, only 34 percent of the students ate at the cafeteria. Though many seniors leave school before lunch, the percentage at Clark is below the one reported by the USDA.

Gezalyan said that she wants all of Clark’s students to try the lunch food. “All of our bread is whole wheat, as well as all of our pastas. We make sure that everything is healthy because we have to follow the District’s guidelines,” Gezalyan said. One of these guidelines is the fruit intake each student gets. According to choosemyplate.gov, one cup of fruit is the daily recommended intake. “This is why I always force the students to take their fruit and juice. One fruit plus their juice equals their daily fruit requirement,” Gezalyan said.

Every day, when the manager and the cook arrive to the cafeteria, they begin preparing the day’s foods. These food choices are created by Gezalyan before the school year starts. She sees what the students like and dislike, and based upon the responses, she adds new foods. “If I see that you don’t like something, I’ll take it out of the menu for next year,” Gezalyan said. “If you have any suggestions, come and talk to us.”

At 6:30 a.m., Isayan and Gezalyan come to Clark and check orders, respond to emails, and get ready for the day. After this, they begin preparing the breakfast and snack for the day. Snack includes foods such as bagels and breakfast sandwiches. A recently-added snack item is the soy butter and jelly sandwich. Isayan said that since so many students have peanut allergies, they will no longer serve regular peanut butter.

Junior Trisha Gomez, who along with many other students cannot eat meat products on Friday during Lent, ate this sandwich. “I was so happy to find out that the soy butter and jelly sandwich was vegan because it was really good,” Gomez said.

Once snack time approaches, the six other cafeteria workers come to work. The cafeteria staff serves snack from 9:30 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., and immediately starts preparing lunch afterwards. To prepare the lunch, the staff follows that day’s menu. “We make almost everything ourselves,” Gezalyan said. “For the kale soup, we don’t use frozen vegetables. No, we make everything from A to Z.” Even the pizza doesn’t come fully prepared. The cook places all of the toppings on the pizza herself, then puts it into the oven.

When the lunch bell rings, the students storm into the cafeteria and make their selection. According to Gezalyan, the cafeteria has student workers along with their staff. These students work during lunch or snack for $9-$10 per hour, depending on their experience in the cafeteria. They also receive free lunch or snack, depending on which shift they take, and a free cookie or chips. “We also have club workers who work at the sandwich bar,” Gezalyan said. Each club earns $25 every day they work.

After the lunch rush ends, the cafeteria begins cleaning up and preparing for the following day. “We usually have around ten to 20 leftovers every time,” Isayan said. These leftovers are usually saved for students who may be returning from a field trip later in the day or for staff members who want them. If they are not eaten, they are thrown away. At the end of the school day, the lunch ladies close the cafeteria and leave at 3:30 p.m. “I serve each of you like my own children,” Gezalyan said.

Read the original story here.

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