School district ovens heat up before roosters call

Denise Helzer is up and at work before a rooster's call announces the start of a new day.

Helzer is field supervisor for the food service department of the Kingman Unified School District.

She arrives at the district's central kitchen at Hualapai Elementary School at 5 a.m.

and begins cooking between 5:30 and 6.

"We prepare 3,300 lunches and 1,100 breakfasts each day for 10 schools," she said.

The food service department has 64 full-time employees and nine substitutes ready to step in on a moment's notice and prepare and deliver 4,400 meals per day.

The two campuses of Kingman High School along with Black Mountain and Cerbat elementary schools often prepare up to three-fourths of the components to meals at their own locations, with the district central kitchen sending over items such as sloppy Joes, spaghetti and taco meat.

Mount Tipton School in Dolan Springs also prepares 180 breakfasts and 280 lunches daily, Helzer said.

Breakfast preparation must be complete by 7 a.m.

so two food drivers can deliver meals to Kingman High South, Kingman Junior High School and La Senita and Manzanita elementary schools.

Hualapai Elementary School children also receive breakfast prepared at their school.

Other district schools prepare breakfast on-site.

Lunch preparation must be complete by 10 a.m., when drivers make their second runs of the day.

Meals are sent out in hot carts that maintain food temperature between 160 and 180 degrees, Helzer said.

But some cooling is inevitable, so steam tables or red-hot carts at all schools rewarm meals before they are served to hungry pupils.

Drivers make a final run in the afternoon to pick up food trays and return them to Hualapai for use the next day.

The central kitchen also must account for whether meals are intended for older or younger children.

Older children receive larger portions than younger children.

"Elementary school children get a 2-ounce serving of items, while junior high and high school kids get 3-ounce portions," Helzer said.

That equates to five chicken nuggets for an elementary child when that item is on the menu.

Junior high and high school students get seven nuggets each in their meals.

Servings of fruit vary from 2 to 4 ounces.

Mashed potato servings are 4 ounces for everyone, Helzer said.

The monthly food budget varies because of bulk buying of items such as canned fruits and vegetables, Gatorade and paper products.

Secretary Paula Loomis said the department's food and milk budget was $66,000 in October, $40,000 in September, $57,000 in August and $9,200 in July.

Cerbat and Palo Christi schools began year-round operation in July.

Items to be prepared at future dates are kept in a district warehouse or two food storage freezers.

Karma Jones, supervisor of food services, said Wednesday an extensive remodeling job in the kitchen at Kingman High South that began in June is complete and that school will prepare its own meals beginning Monday.

The state School Facilities Board paid for the remodeling and new equipment, Jones said.

That equipment includes a dishwasher, deep fryer, freezer, walk-in refrigerator, holding cart, stainless steel tables, along with heating and new lighting and floor tiles.

"Our kitchen here at Hualapai was designed when the district had 2,500 students," Jones said.

"We're feeding more kids now than when it was built as the central kitchen in 1982."

Helzer said her workday this year begins 30 minutes later than last year, when she was at Hualapai Elementary at 4:30 a.m.

A later start to the school day this year enables her to get a little extra sleep.