At 10:45 am on a recent Wednesday, two food service employees at John O’Connell High School added finishing touches to the 190 lunches that would soon be served. Local chefs working for Revolution Foods in Oakland prepared the food yesterday and then delivered it to the school this morning.

“Today is barbecue chicken wraps and enchiladas with brown rice,” says Rosalina Navarroza who has been at John O’Connell for almost seven years- so long, she said that some of the kids call her “grandma.”

As of January 1, the food vendor produces all of John O’Connell’s meals as well as those for every elementary school in the district and for some middle and high schools. The meals include an A-list of local partners including Diestel Turkey Ranch, Fork in the Road Foods and Massa Organics. Meats come from free-roaming animals that are vegetarian-fed and free of hormones. Orders have been on the rise.

“Part of that is because the quality of the food is better now. Nothing’s frozen. Nothing’s artificial. It’s completely different,” said Jennie Lee, interim assistant director of Student Nutrition Services for the San Francisco Unified School District.

Lee added that the portions for each meal are federally regulated, and adhere to the healthy lunch program promoted by First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to combat childhood obesity.

As her co-worker put foil over enchiladas to keep them warm, Navarozza ran down the rules: “Milk, meat and bread [grain] comes with every meal. Then they pick from the variety of fruits and vegetables. Today we have cherry tomatoes and beans. Then they choose from the plums or apples or oranges.” She then took her oven mitts off to stack a pyramid of plums.

Beverly Choice, one of the campus security guards, walked in, wearing her black sequin 49ers flip flops. “Look at my babies. They are getting huuuungry.” She said, referring to one tall and thin teenage boy already waiting at the cafeteria door. The kids call her “Mama Bev.”

Another security guard, Juan Gallardo, 43, joined them. “Sometimes the kids will try to cut and so to reduce bullying in line, we are here.” said Gallardo, known as “G” to the kids.

Hundreds of the school’s 450 students filed into the cafeteria.

Navarozza and her coworkers kept the students in line and fed them.

“Get your fruit, take some milk,” all advised. Milk is provided with every meal. Today there is an added treat: strawberries.

“Cheese enchiladas! Yeah! It’s better than last year’s. It’s warm and it makes you want to eat it. It used to be gross, but I like it now,” said 17-year-old Jose.

Another student agreed.

“It’s edible,” said Robert, a 14-year-old freshmen. “It’s not the best, but it’s pretty good.”

Others had suggestions.

“It’s alright. They give us options but we should have different kinds of fruit every day. A big salad would also be great,” said a 17-year-old girl who is a senior.

“It’s mostly good and healthy, but I just wish they had more variety,” added a 15-year-old freshmen boy.

One student was more concerned about the beverages.

“I’d rather be getting free bottled water. It’s always milk,” said an 18-year-old senior. “I like the chicken wings. I wish they served Chinese food!”

Some students complained that the portions were too small.

Between 60 and 100 students are eligible to each lunch off campus if they meet the criteria. They must have 90 percent attendance, a minimum 2.5 grade point average and at least 170 credits.

Some 65 percent of the students at John O’Connell are on free and reduced lunch, compared to last year’s 77 percent. It’s still early and likely to jump after the remaining meal applications come in. Those who are not eligible can purchase lunch for $3.

Each student enters their personal identification number at the register, which helps the food service employees determine who is on the free and reduced lunch. One teen with long black curly hair forgot his PIN. He walked over to Gallardo who removed a small piece of paper from his pocket with the teen’s number on it.

“You get to know the kids really well.” said Gallardo with a smile and black rimmed glasses.

Within 13 minutes, there is no longer a line and most of the teens are seated and eating.

Principal Mark Alvarado said they got lots of feedback. Plus, he said, if it is not good “we see how much of it is wasted.”

Of the 190 lunches that are prepared each day, Navarozza said 11 of them, at most, will not be ordered. For students who take the food and then change their mind, there is a community table where they put food that they don’t want. Only one plate of enchiladas and a few cartons of milk sat on it after Wednesday’s lunch.

Alvarado measures the improved nutrition by the vanishing number of students carrying Arizona iced teas, which have 69 grams of sugar and 259 calories in 23 ounces.

“The number of students walking in the door with hot chips and Arizona iced teas has dramatically reduced. To give perspective, every four out of five kids coming through the door had it, now maybe one or two.”

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Guisel Contreras credits her keen sense of smell for her love of food. Her super-sniffer led her off the street and into Dandelion Chocolate, where the “Madagascar” won her heart. “I’m excited to go beyond the typical [restaurant] review.” Follow her nose on Mission Local.

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  1. 450 kids and 190 meals? That’s not very good…..I don’t believe their previous vendor every used anything artificial, so that information is wrong!

  2. I think this is wonderful. Hey the student’s are aware and learning. Sounds like the administration is listening and doing it.
    It’s school and good for the valuable learning experience. Willmake a difference.
    Really, good and hope it does survive.
    If for some reason it doesn’t work out, at least the students did learn.