Meet Your Neighbor: Guzman makes school lunches look like restaurant meals – Fremont News Messenger

KANSAS — Lakota High School students have an unlikely educational advocate in the building: Food Service Director Michelle Guzman. While many school cafeterias work hard to simply feed their student body, Guzman focuses on providing three things: meals her students love, nutritious foods that fuel the body and brain, and exposure to different foods that will widen her students’ palates.  
“Michelle and her team are amazing. Our lunches look like restaurant meals,” said School Counselor Nancy Slotterbeck.
Guzman has worked in food service since she was 17 and is in her eighth year at Lakota. A couple years ago, she began dreaming about a different kind of cafeteria experience, where her students had more options and more fresh foods. Today, that dream is a reality for the high school students, who can choose from three serving bays each day: a daily entrée line, a pizza line, and a soup, sandwich and salad line. Each bay offers different choices each day.
Vegetables and fruit are cut fresh each day, and soups are made from scratch. The cafeteria’s Combi Oven, which does everything from steam to bake food, allows the kitchen staff to proof bread for fresh cinnamon rolls and sub buns.
The students are thrilled with their cafeteria, which has been dubbed Lakhi Café.
“The idea took off like gangbusters,” Guzman said. “They love salad, and chicken reigns supreme. The soup and salad bay is very popular. Today, I have six gallons of soup ready and three spares. That’s a lot of soup. Who would have known?”
Lakhi Café is offering more than just fun options for the students; it provides nutritious food that aids in productivity.
“We have fresh fruit and vegetable trays every day. I look for power foods, brain foods, and slide them in wherever I can,” Guzman said. “The pounds of fresh vegetables we serve has increased over the last few years.”
Guzman doesn’t stop with foods her students love. She also strives to expose them to foods they’ve never before tried, like mashed squash and cauliflower, by encouraging the students to sample the food.
“We tell them, ‘Just take a bite. You don’t have to eat the whole thing.’ When we first started serving cauliflower, we would serve about 30 pounds. Now we serve 45 to 50 pounds,” Guzman said. “They love Italian Wedding Soup, after they got over the spinach. It’s just exposing them to different food, and then they talk to other students about it and they come to try it.”
Senior Patience Little said she enjoys the food at Lakhi Café, which recently provided her first taste of apple crisp.
“I had never had it before. It was very good,” Little said. “I love the funnel cakes and the popcorn chicken with General Tso sauce. I like the variety.”
Food shortages have made meal planning difficult for Guzman this year, but it hasn’t stopped her from providing the best meals possible for her students. She is grateful to receive commodity products from popular food suppliers such as Gordon Food Service, Toft’s and Nickles.
“With food shortages, we don’t know what we’ll get week to week, but our commodity products are wonderful,” she said.
And so is her staff, which gave her the necessary and willing backup to bring her dream for more options and more fresh choices to fruition.
“It’s very time-consuming. It takes lots of manpower, for sure. But I’m very lucky. I have an awesome staff,” she said. “We want them to love lunch.”
The impact Guzman and her staff have made on the students’ daily school experience was made clear one day when she made an announcement in the cafeteria about upcoming meals.
“They all started clapping,” she said. “It was the best thing ever.”
Contact correspondent Sheri Trusty at