468,000 student meals

In a school year, Food Service Director Kala Suchan is responsible for preparing 468,000 student meals
Posted on 04/01/2022
Kala Suchan

Even under a shade covering, it gets hot working in a parking lot, especially when Phoenix temperatures hit triple digits.


But the parking lot at Dos Rios Elementary school is exactly where you’ll find Union Elementary School District Director of Food Services Kala Suchan, MS, RD. Like a lot of folks in the education arena, Suchan has some letters after her name. And, like the other folks in education, those letter matter.


Suchan is a registered dietitian (the RD) with a master’s degree in nutrition (the MS), and both of those designations are critical to her performing her job. An RD plans food and nutrition programs, supervises meal preparation, and oversees the serving of meals. They also attempt to prevent and treat illnesses by promoting healthy eating habits and recommending dietary modifications. All meals served in UESD, she said, follow guidelines as outlined by the United States Department of Agriculture.


That’s pretty important when you consider that, on average, UESD serves 200 afterschool snacks, 1,000 breakfasts, and 1,400 lunches per day during the school year. This year UESD’s Food and Nutrition program was also able to serve meals to the community during Spring Break and throughout the month of June. The program also serves after school snacks for programs such as 21st Centurty, PAC and YMCA. For you numbers people that translates into 36,000 snacks, 180,000 breakfasts and 252,000 every school year. Or, using a formula provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which oversees the National School Breakfast and Lunch program across the country), that translates into more than 483,000 pounds of food.


As a registered dietitian, I could provide countless studies with how crucial good nutrition is for learning, focus, and social and emotional growth,” Suchan said. “Through our Community Eligibility Provision program, all students eat meals for free which allows them to focus on their learning as opposed to their next meal. Every single day we are serving whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, as well as milk.”


Suchan came to Union just a year ago. Her school nutrition service includes a rotation with Creighton Elementary School District, working in a hospital as a dietitian, and as the nutrition and wellness specialist at Isaac School District before coming to Union.


COVID and its residual affects has presented its challenges. School nutrition menu items are chosen in early Spring of the previous school year. COVID-19 interrupted many of these manufacturers, forcing districts to use other items at a higher price point, she said.


“Meal service procedures have looked a lot different with COVID-10 mitigation strategies,” Suchan said. “Meals were being delivered to classrooms which involved a lot more packaging, walking in the heat, and more time constraints. Union food service staff continued to go with the changes, always ensuring that every student had access to meals at no cost. At the end of the day, the staff knew that although difficult, they had to provide fuel for these students to learn.”

 

What really makes UESD’s food service work is the people working behind the scenes.

“Their dedication to our students is admirable and inspiring,” Suchan said. “They love hearing when the kids like a particular recipe or are excited about a special holiday treat. You should have seen the Union Café Manager teaching her littles how to build a fish taco with fresh mango salsa. They are an incredible group of ladies and gentlemen.”


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