Lunch Program Coordinator Jennifer Adams helps set up pizza boxes from Pizza Guys on the hot lunch table in the middle school on Oct. 21. (Photo by Arikta Trivedi)

BEHIND THE SCENES: How the Country Day lunch program works

The clock hits 12:12, it is lunchtime. A wave of hungry students crowd in front of the library to grab their lunch, delivered from local restaurants. As they walk up to the lunch tables, students of all grade levels look for their pre-ordered and individually packaged lunches — tagged with their names. Afterward, some students return to their tables to eat with friends while others go out in the garden to eat by the shade. During lunch, you can hear many students talking and laughing about topics on daily life or events at school.

Although it is easy for students to drop by and pick up their lunch every day, this is only possible due to the Country Day Lunch Program.

Since it was founded in the 1990s, the program has gone through a series of radical changes. Originally, it was started by Lunch Program Coordinator Jennifer Adams’ parents. They worked as independent contractors for the school and cooked the food for the students in the kitchen by the multipurpose room since the school was still relatively small. Adams joined her parents and the program in 2005.

“Everybody would come down to the MP room for snacks, and then we would actually cook all the lunches and package them,” she said. “It was just me, my mom and my aunt.”

However, the old model of the lunch program closed in 2010 as the school pivoted to independent caterers to supply lunches. When Adams returned in 2015 as a Country Day employee, the program was revamped but took a similar approach by ordering food from outside the school.

Currently, Adams is also working as the Benefits Coordinator and the Assistant to the Human Resource and Payroll Manager Rudi Rose.

High school students order lunch from the program for different reasons. For junior Jonah Angelo David, it is to save time. He used to bring his own lunch to school during his 9th-grade year but decided that it was more convenient to order at school instead of preparing his own lunch.

To order, parents and students fill out a monthly form that specifies what days they intend to get lunch through the school. The meals cost $8.10 individually or  $162 monthly for daily lunch.

Behind the scenes, Adams tallies the forms and makes daily calls every morning to ensure the timeliness of the food deliveries.

“I’m always on the phone,” she said. “Like come on guys, you got to show up on time, angry, hungry kids!”

The selection of meals students can order rotates daily with Boudin’s Bakery on Mondays, Noodles and Co. on Tuesdays, Noah’s New York Bagels on Wednesdays, Domino’s and Pizza Guys on Thursdays and Chili’s on Fridays. 

Like David, junior Ryan Paul gets his lunch from the school every day. However, through eating many of the meals offered, he also has some favorites.

“The chipotle chicken bowls from Chili’s are my favorite. I look forward to that,” he said. “There is some rice, beans and chicken. When the bowl comes, I shake it really hard so everything mixes. If I combine everything, I think it tastes the best.”

Likewise, Paul has some problems with some of the meals served from restaurants including Noah’s Bagels. 

“Sacramento Country Day School should invest in more restaurants that are more filling. The quantity of it is not enough,” Paul said. “I like pizza day because the quantity is so much. But the bagels are not filling.” 

Country Day has been working with these companies since 2014 because they are close to the school, which makes delivering the food easier.

“It’s difficult right now to get restaurants to work with us because they have a hard time keeping people working,” Adams said. “We would like to order from other places, but a lot of them just can’t take on the amount of lunches that we would order.”

In addition, COVID-19 precautions have added a few more challenges of availability and ability to individually package that many lunches. For instance, the shift to personal pizzas this year resulted in ordering from two companies: Pizza Guys and Domino’s Pizza.

“Last year we obviously weren’t at full capacity so Pizza Guys was able to make the pizzas and deliver them on time,” Adams said. “But now they’re having to make a pizza for each person. So we would order 80 pizzas, but now we’re ordering around 270. On the first day back to school, they had to do multiple deliveries, which caused everybody to have their lunch late.”

So far, the strategy has worked well in delivering the pizza on time. The restaurant the pizza comes from depends on the student’s order because Pizza Guys and Dominoes are split by pizza type. Pizza guys make the combo pizzas while Dominoes is in charge of cheese and pepperoni. 

Adams has alternatives prepared if other restaurants were not able to provide the food on time later on during the year, 

​​”Thank God that hasn’t happened yet,” she said. “But odds are if that happened, we would do pizza because I think that would be the quickest.”

— By Garman Xu

Originally published in the Oct. 26 edition of the Octagon.

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