CHS meal plan: How many are going to eat?

Carson High students join the school’s lunch lines Dec. 1, 2023.

Carson High students join the school’s lunch lines Dec. 1, 2023.
Photo by Jessica Garcia.

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The lunch bell rings and Carson High School students closest to the campus’ main food station dart for its main entrees, maybe burgers, sandwiches or salads. Some might grab a slice of pizza if the line upstairs hasn’t backed up already. And if both of those lines are too long or if specialty items run out, there’s always the third option downstairs offering the food no one wants.

On the days it seems like lines are longer and there’s a potential for a food shortage, Elizabeth Martinez and food services management company Chartwells’ director of dining services John Worring say their goal is to make sure any Carson student who wants to eat eats.

“The seniors do eat off campus,” Martinez said. “But our hope is to feed as many students here as possible because we know our meals here are healthier (than fast food).”

For kitchen staff, forecasting meals is the mission. CHS has 2,270 students; approximately one-third might eat school meals. There might be anywhere from 375 to 650 mouths to feed daily. This doesn’t change Nutrition Services’ goal — to feed as many students as possible every day.

“One day we’re feeding 600 and the next day we have like 420 coming through, and there’s really no rhyme or reason to it,” Martinez told the Appeal.

Martinez and Worring took questions about potential lunch shortages and student needs at a recent Professional Learning Community meeting. Both said they seek feedback from students, parents and staff members to understand how to improve services at all school sites, but Carson High’s program has been the more challenging, followed by Carson Middle School.

Ananda Campbell, district library coordinator at Carson High, said she and her son attended the meeting to ask about the space to accommodate students, the variety of the food that often seemed limited to chicken sandwiches at the high school and to ask why vending machines are not available.

Martinez told the Appeal her department has received two vending machines for the school’s Tech Center, each of which will hold 60 sandwiches or wraps, but they have not been set up. Staff is looking to identify proper packaging that will dispense easily, especially if salad is a possible entrée for the machines.

“It’s a little cumbersome. (The machines) vend just fine, but when you go to grab, I can see an upset student rip it out,” she said. “We’re working on finding an alternative. I’m just thinking of salad everywhere.”

Others have asked about the amount of food waste in the limited time students have for lunch, whether they’re unable to finish or have been unhappy with what they took.

Worring added to be able produce fresh specialty foods within a 35-minute window for so many students on high-volume days makes it nearly impossible to batch cook.

“From a cost perspective, it doesn’t upset me,” he said. “They want to have enough so they can feed as many kids as possible because if they get an influx and, for some reason, they’re doing an extra 50 to 75 kids and then they run out, to me, that’s a bigger problem than them throwing away a few cheeseburgers or a few chicken patty sandwiches and a couple of salads.”

“The goal is to throw as little away as we can, but we’d rather you throw food away at the end of the day than students not get a meal,” Martinez said. “Even if we did run out of everything, which has never happened, there’s never a reason for a student to not get something here.”

Worring said the only line he notices Carson High run out of food is the pizza line because it’s difficult to batch cook a pizza correctly on the spot.

“The oven space they have, in time it takes to cook them right, you can’t just slap a pizza together, throw it in there and hope it’s ready by the time a kid’s in line because you don’t want a soggy crust or unmelted cheese,” he said.

The district has 43 staff members covering all 11 kitchens in the district. Martinez said parent complaints always remain at the top of her priority list, and she had not received many of those in recent weeks.

“A lot of people don’t know about this environment, and people don’t typically have a high opinion of a career in food service,” Worring said. “They’re wrong because as a career switch myself, there’s so much more to it. It’s rewarding.”

Worring, who once fed freshmen at the University of Nevada, Reno, said he appreciates the criticisms from students.

“They’re going to be honest with you, and I appreciate honesty, but I think they have a skewed perception of what goes on,” Worring said. “So the concerns about them running out of food … if there had been a huge problem, we would have heard about it the next day.”

Campbell said she has seen a positive trend with food services in the past month.

“Students are reassured that they will receive food with or without an ID and the specialty items are lasting longer in the lines,” Campbell said.


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