Most of the time, we talk about all things school nutrition from OUR side. We decided to flip the tables to tell a more relatable story, told from the eyes of a cafeteria manager.
Lauri Nenadovich is the cafeteria manager at Garfield Heights Middle School. She has been in this position since November 2018, but has been a dedicated employee of Garfield Heights City Schools since 2010. Lauri has embraced all the changes thrown her way over the years and is proud to be a part of the Garfield Heights Food Service family.
Walk us through your day - What is a typical day for you?
“I get in at 5:45, Sharon (head cook) and I discuss menu plans for the day, tasks for the other ladies. We catch up on personal stuff and then we get to work with prep [for lunch] or Breakfast in the Classroom carts, wait for the ladies to get in. I help whenever I’m needed, wherever I’m needed if my ladies need me. I don’t feel that I’m above them, I feel that I’m one of them”
What is your favorite part about this job?
“The kids - there’s some crazy ones out there, but for the most part I do enjoy talking to them and learning what they do, what they like and talking with them...even tho they drive me batty”
What is your least favorite part about this job?
Paperwork - I hate paperwork.
What is the most challenging part of this job?
Personalities of my workers. Kinda have to be careful how you talk to some; with some you need to tread lightly, some you can be blunt and honest.
What was your favorite school lunch growing up?
When I was in high school at Trinity, the lunch lady brownies and the friday pizza parties
Do you cook at home? What is your favorite thing to cook? To eat?
Yes I cook at home all the time! I enjoy teaching my son how to cook. My favorite thing to cook is homemade soup and homemade spaghetti. And I love to bake!
Talk to us about some of the changes to your menu over the past year. How did you embrace this change? What do the kids like? What flopped?
“I love the changes that we do come up with from food show or things that you [Pisanick Partners] have shared, or even things we see when out at dinner! We’ve had some big menu changes - more homemade stuff that we do, not processed, which I really enjoy doing. I love the new flavors we’re bringing in to the menus. Anything chicken here flies.”
“Menu flop...some of the breakfast things. I don’t think it’s anything on how they’re being prepared, I think it's just that they don’t like them. Example being sausage biscuit. And they don’t like vegetables!”
How has your menu, or the way you work with your students, been impacted by emerging food trends (global on trend, local, clean label)?
Yes, because I come to Lauryn with nice long lists of ‘hey can we try or convert this [items seem online, in restaurants].’ Try days help. I think it’s fun sometimes when we try to recreate some of the stuff that the fast food chains have and make it K12 friendly!
If at all, how has technology or social media impacted your role in school food service (good or bad)?
Good - “The community is really seeing all the positive things that we’re doing with the kids. Like we had the family engagement night this week and the kids were coming in and telling parents ‘this is how we go through our day and the lunch line’. It’s exciting to hear that parents are hearing what the kids are eating, and I don’t think that’s happened in the past. Overall I think its a positive thing for us and for the community to see that we are using our grants,and they are aware of all the things that we’re changing.”
Bad - “If it’s something they don’t like...bad news travels faster than good news. If kids are saying its gross, then by the time we get to the 8th grade lunch (last of 3 lunch lines), they’re not going to eat it and we’ll hear ‘we don’t want that its gross.’
If there were no restrictions or guidelines for NSLP, no budgetary constraints, no nagging Pisanick Partner in your ear telling you you can’t do that - what would you change?
“Portion sizes - instead of 5 measly chicken nuggets, they’d get a 20 piece. We’d cook with butter to give things flavor! More spices & salt so kids could have flavor… because rice just has no flavor compared to how they cook it at home.”
You’ve been in this position for a little over a year - what advice do you have for a cafeteria employee who’s been promoted to a leadership position?
“It is a lot to take in all at once, but there have been tons of people (higher up and associates) that have helped me understand and learn the techniques, the paperwork, being supportive and encouraging of all the changes.
“Learn your audience. You have to be able to flip gears going from working with your ladies to working with your kids to when you get an administrator walking in the room.”
“And work with Lauryn! It’s not always so written in stone; not everyone thinks the same. She’s been helpful with trying to get us to think outside the box and do things different ways. Be open to change!” (I didn’t pay her to say this :) )