To provide 30,000 meals of breakfast and lunch to children at schools every day, the Lodi Unified School District works with a budget of about $15 million a year.
Warren Sun, director of food services, is the man responsible for making sure that process goes smoothly. Recently, he was interviewed by the News-Sentinel about his job and favorite foods.
Q: What does your job include?
A: I am the director of the food services department, in charge of overseeing the national child nutrition program.
I basically (ensure that) all programs are meeting federal and state regulations, are meeting nutritional needs for the students, and make sure my staff are properly training to support these objectives.
Q: Where does your cafeteria food come from?
A: Our overall compositions of food? I would say one-third of foods are cooked from scratch on the school site. One-third would be like a semi-prepped food.
For example, we are getting frozen pizza dough and adding fresh toppings. Another third would be "heat and serve," like chicken nuggets and corn dogs.
For entrees, this would be our combinations. Most of our fresh produce is local. We contract with a local vendor; they provide about 50 percent of our fresh produce. I would say 50 percent of that is organically grown fruits or vegetables.
Q: What foods are popular at the schools?
A: We bring a lot of the ethnic foods. Right now, the most popular is the Asian food we bring (such as) teriyaki chicken. We've been constantly testing different foods, and Asian food is the most (popular), it's kind of a trend. It fits well with this district. We have a lot of Asian students, Hispanic students — they like Asian food. We serve a lot of rice; we're testing brown rice right now, trying to encourage students to eat more whole grains.
Q: What is your favorite food?
A: (Laughs) Favorite food? I eat almost everything. I think my favorite dessert is crème brule. I really don't eat a lot of dessert.
Q: How do you deal with dietary restrictions?
A: Usually, we try to accommodate all needs. It's always very difficult. Our menu every day has a vegetarian (option). Because we have so many choices, we always make one notable vegetarian entree for the kids to choose. We also encourage our staff at the site to be flexible based on specialty needs. For a special diet we require a doctor's note, for medical needs or allergies.
Q: Do you consider pizza sauce to be a vegetable, like Congress decided a few weeks ago?
A: The definition of a vegetable is quite clear. As far as Congress declaring pizza sauce a vegetable, whether they're going to change it or not, there are a lot of changes from the initial proposal. Like the potato — they wanted the potatoes as a daily serving, and they changed that.
A tomato is a vegetable, whether it is processed or not.
I see for our students that the biggest thing is we need to encourage them to eat a variety of food. I think our job really is promoting and educating kids to eat a variety of foods. Variety and moderation is the key, with exercise. As long as they balance these, they can eat anything, I think.
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at firstname.lastname@example.org.