As the guests gathered their plates and headed towards the buffet set up at the back of the staff dining room, Mayra Vega and her fellow students finally appeared to relax.

A couple weeks’ worth of planning and prepping culminated on March 14 as the guests at the fifth annual Food and Nutrition Registered Dietitian Luncheon sat down to eat.

The guest list included a number of registered dietitians from the Merced area, Merced College administrators and faculty, Mayor Mike Murphy and his wife Heather, who is a former Food and Nutrition student and helped host the 2017 version of the event.

Vega and her fellow leads, Julia Johnson and Gabriella Aguilar, were responsible for hosting and preparing the food for the luncheon as part of their Nutrition 42 class, which focuses on quantity food preparation.

“We prepared a menu and tested it out in class,” Vega said. “We wanted to go with a Mexican theme, so we made a menu of fajitas and rice. The class really liked it, so we went with it. There was a lot of prep work done the night before, so today we could just cook and set up.

“I think it turned out really nice.”

The 30-plus in attendance appeared to agree as they devoured the delicious-smelling fare.

“I was very proud of how the students worked as a team to create the menu, test recipes and problem solve,” Food and Nutrition professor and coordinator Michelle Pecchenino said. “They planned the logistics of serving, including the theme, decorations and assigning tasks to their classmates.”

In addition to giving the students real-world experience with which to practice their skills, the luncheon also serves as a networking opportunity. Pecchenino intentionally divides the group so that administrators, registered dietitians and students are dispersed at every table.

 “I know the registered dietitians enjoy interacting with the future dietitians,” Pecchenino said. “Overall, I believe it is great networking for our students, administrators and the food and nutrition professionals in the community.”