Sharing happiness with Adult Happy Meals: NAU HRM students cook up care, create meals for COVID-19 immunization workers

HRM students stand together while meals are picked up

Every year, the Foundations in Kitchen Operations class (HA 243) in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (HRM) caters a food event to a selected group of people. In appreciation of their efforts throughout the pandemic, this year, the class chose to design and prepare a homemade meal for the COVID-19 immunization workers on Northern Arizona University’s campus.

HRM students prepare meals in kitchen togetherHA 243 equips students with the skills and knowledge to manage small and large quantities of food and beverage preparation, production and service. The event gives students practice and the experience of a live catering event. Under the guidance of chef Mark Molinaro, HRM lecturer, and senior Delanie Rendon, HRM ambassador and teaching assistant, students created meals for more than 20 workers.

“We have the freedom to choose which group of people we would like to serve and what foods we want to serve them,” said junior Sydney Dennis, who is studying nutrition. “Our class decided on immunization workers as we wanted to thank them for their hard work and for helping keep our community safe.”

adult happy mealThe theme was “Adult Happy Meal,” imitating a healthy version of McDonald’s famous meals for kids, and included two turkey sliders, a side of hot vegetable soup, cosmic brownies, a beverage and, in true Happy Meal fashion, a few small gifts. To show gratitude for the essential workers, students wrote personalized thank-you notes and included a syringe-like pen and a sticker in each meal.

“The idea of Adult Happy Meal came up when we were all brainstorming ideas as a class and we all wanted to do something a little more fun so this was the perfect fit,” Dennis said.

“I enjoyed brainstorming the ideas as a class and also knowing that what we were doing was a service to these health care workers that have done so much for us,” said Isabella Lyda, a sophomore studying nutrition and foods. “It was such a nice and fulfilling way to say ‘thank you’ to them.”

Dennis is from a small town outside Las Vegas and plays soccer for NAU. She likes learning about nutrition and how it can prolong lives and prevent disease by simply choosing a balanced diet. Lyda is from Colorado, but now lives in Arizona full time. She has a passion for food and helping others and plans to attend optometry school after graduation. This event was a way to explore both of their interests in healthy food choices while helping others.

Food traysThe execution of the event required thoughtful planning and a divide-and-conquer approach. Students showed up to class at 8 a.m., an hour before their usually scheduled time. The work was divided by food item. Some students put final touches on pre-made foods while others set to work cooking or baking the items that needed to be made that day. Despite knowing they needed to be efficient to ensure a successful event, the students encountered a few unexpected obstacles.

“One person from our class ended up becoming ill before the event and was unable to attend class the day of, so the girl assigned to making turkey sliders was on her own,” Dennis said. “Luckily our classmates all lent a hand, and we were able to get everything done in time for pick up.”

“Since this was the class’s first event, we struggled with the planning and preparation,” Lyda said. “I don’t think we anticipated how much the littlest details would matter when it came to event day, but we worked it out and our event not only went smoothly but was successful thanks to the guidance provided and our teamwork.”

“We also had a classmate come to class in a sling that day, and he ended up flipping sliders for us and doing everything with one hand,” Dennis said. “It was just funny timing that he had only one hand on the day we needed all hands on deck.”

Despite these challenges, the students adapted to get the meals done. Once everything was prepared, the portable meals were picked up at 10:45 a.m. by Janet McNeese, director of Campus Health Services, who delivered the meals to the immunization workers.

“It is funny to replay the last five minutes of that day in my head,” Lyda said. “Everything was so chaotic and we were rushing to be on time for the pickup. We probably looked like chickens without heads running around to finish everything!”

“I enjoyed seeing everything come together and watching the class help each other,” Dennis said. “We were all really excited to be making these meals for the immunization workers. To have the event come together as well as it did was really satisfying.”

The class does other events throughout the year, but most are internal where food is made for the class rather than for outside interests or purposes. Students were grateful for the opportunity to put their skills to the test and for the guidance from Molinaro and Rendon to make it happen.

“I just want to say a big thank-you to all the health care and frontline workers during the pandemic,” Lyda said. “I wish we could do this every day for everyone. We truly appreciate the workers and all that they are doing.”

Northern Arizona University Logo


Jacklyn Walling | NAU Communications