It's pasta night at USC: Time to make 40 pounds of spaghetti and 580 meatballs

Jalen McKenzie, left, and Brandon Pili, right, go through the dinner line at USC's pasta night. Photography by Kendrick Brinson

LOS ANGELES -- When practice is over at USC, just about everyone on the team heads in the same direction. They need to shower, and then, more importantly, they need to eat. It's a basic human necessity and sounds simple enough, but the act of feeding over 100 football players -- including more than 30 who weigh more than 250 pounds -- isn't something that is taken lightly.

Before the first fork goes near a player's face, USC dietitian Andrea Vanderwoude gets to work, figuring out the types of food and the number of calories the players need to consume to achieve peak performance.

For this particular dinner, the Trojans will eat nearly half a million calories. Here's the breakdown:

Vanderwoude works with chef MaryAnn Nasca to bring each day's menu to life. It takes a kitchen staff of about six to prepare the meal.

Here's the menu and shopping list:

  • Kale Caesar salad [16 pounds romaine; 4 pounds kale; 5 pounds Parmesan cheese]

  • Turkey lasagna [30 pounds ground turkey; 30 pounds ricotta cheese; 25 pounds shredded mozzarella/provolone cheese]

  • Baked spinach pasta with pesto chicken [60 pounds chicken breast; 4 gallons creamy pesto sauce]

  • Spaghetti and meatballs [35 pounds ground beef; 10 gallons marinara sauce]

  • Garlic bread [25 loaves]

  • Roasted Brussels sprouts [35 pounds]

  • House-baked cookies [40 pounds]

Time to get cooking

Chef Nasca's Caesar salad follows the traditional recipe but includes kale. Four pounds of it.

The Trojans get three choices of main courses, and Vanderwoude tries to include whole-wheat pasta when she can.

The Trojans need this hearty menu. Between three different pasta dishes, the staff will use 90 pounds of pasta with 60 pounds of different cheeses.

"Monday is a lighter day, so the meal reflects that," Vanderwoude said. "Tuesday is the hardest, followed by Wednesday. They eat more after harder practices to make up for the amount of energy that is exerted."

Besides chicken fingers, ice cream is USC's guilty pleasure. Vanderwoude doesn't deny players certain foods, so to speak, but does advise them against things such as fast foods.

And the ice cream?

"At least they're getting some calcium with their dessert," Vanderwoude said.

The Trojans are burning a lot of calories, so they can afford a sweet treat, right? For this night, it won't be ice cream, but something from the bakery.

How about over 300 cookies?

That adds up to about 40 pounds of cookies.

Time to eat

The Trojans will eat together nearly every night of the week during the season, and staying hydrated is paramount. For that, the nutrition staff also puts water on the menu. Players can drink up to three gallons of water per day, depending on the player.

As the meal ends and the week progresses, the two staffs start on the next day's menu.

"As we get closer to the game, I try to keep it a little bit healthier, in a way," Vanderwoude said. "... They don't necessarily know that, but I try to help them get ready for the game."

All photos by Kendrick Brinson for ESPN