Giving Thanks Every School Day

When I started the TIPS for Schools Meals That Rock Facebook group in early 2018, I did not know what to expect. The response has been wonderful with 2,065+ members sharing recipes, resources and their successes. A recent post by Amanda Pack Warren from Staunton City Eats, SCS School Nutrition Programs, Staunton, Virginia, made me step back and reflect on the celebration of School Nutrition Employee Week. Warren pointed out that School Nutrition Professionals deserve much more than gifts, thank you cards and social media posts for the incredible job they do – they deserve professional respect and deep appreciation every day.

HERO Pack Warren 1

There’s a T-shirt (popular among school nutrition professionals of course) that says “I feed hundreds of hungry children every day with a smile on my face. What do you do?” This photo from Staunton City Eats embodies that slogan. With many thanks to Amanda Warren, I want to share my gratitude to every school nutrition professional by expanding on two points from her post: Every day these hard-working professionals deserve to receive sincere and specific thanks for a job well-done and to be seen as partners in education.

Woodland Staff

Sincere Thanks: The story behind this photo made me cry when I read the post from Kalin Bryan, Bartow County School Nutrition, Cartersville, Georgia: “A very special thing happened today at Woodland Middle School. Our central office team was delivering special aprons for School Nutrition Employee Week at WMS; she handed out the aprons and invited the staff into the cafeteria for a photo while the students were still eating. As the school nutrition staff walked out into the cafeteria, the entire lunchroom full of students started clapping and applauding them. No one asked the students to do this. They did it because they know how hard the ladies work to provide delicious, fresh food to them every school day.” I have eaten in this cafeteria and I know how hard these professionals work to plan, prepare and serve tasty, fresh meals with a smile.

Dallas Solar Preparatory

Specific thanks: While celebrating all the Dallas ISD Food Super Cooks Heroes during #FreshAttitudeWeek (coinciding with #SchoolNutritionEmployeeWeek), the department, directed by Michael Rosenberg, chose to recognize one school team with a specific award for serving with loving smiles: Our amazing Solar Preparatory School for Girls at James B. Bonham Cafeteria Crew was honored today by Dallas ISD Food and Child Nutrition Services with the Heart of Child Nutrition Award! We are extremely grateful for this team who serves each meal with love and a smile! #SolarStaffRocks.”

Stem Sensational Salad

Partners in STEM Education: School Nutrition programs and staff are the perfect partners for STEM (Science, Technology, Electronics and Math) Education using food to teach and reinforce classroom lessons. In Carrollton City Schools, Georgia, (Director Linette Dodson), Eat Healthy Eat Local Eat at Carrollton City Schools has developed delicious partnerships using school gardens, Food Corps service members and nutrition professionals: “When our CES Trojans grow enough mixed greens in school gardens to provide our kitchen with greens for 800+ STEMsational school lunch salads, it brings new meaning to Georgia Grown!” Now that’s a STEMsational example of the many ways Georgia School Nutrition Programs are creating strong educational partners with their  #ShakeItUPGA initiative!


Partners in MATH/STEM Education: It’s clear from all the banners in this photo and from their Twitter feed (@RKES_PWCS) that the Rockledge Elementary Eagles, Prince William County Schools, VA, are focused on education excellence and fun educational activities, especially when it comes to STEM. AND they involve their school nutrition professionals in events like the Annual 3rd Grade Fruitapalooza to learn about fractions. Talk about #deliciousmath! Follow Prince William County Schools, School Food & Nutrition Services at @PWCSNutrition on Twitter to learn all about their delicious program.

I am grateful every day to every school nutrition professional across the USA. I am grateful to dishwashers, food artists, menu planners, directors and most of all those who serve hudreds of hungry children with smiles on their faces. You feed our future. 2015-10-27 I Feed Hundreds Shirt



31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Peas on Earth

Now that the holiday hustle is almost over and food comas are common throughout the land, it is time to begin looking toward 2015. New Year’s Day is but a week away and, before you know it, it will be time to think about starting next spring’s garden plants.

All my wishes for 2015 can really be summarized by this simple graphic. 

Peas on Earth1

Like so many others around the globe, I can imagine no greater gift than a more peaceful planet. If only we could ‘beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks.’ If only we would war no more and so that all children could have the nourishing foods they need to grow strong and well.

My dedication to #RealSchoolFood is an extension of my love of growing food, cooking food and enjoying food. While world peace may continue to elude us, I am totally confident that 2015 will bring more good news about school meals, school gardens and local foods for local districts. I am grateful for the opportunity to share that news here on this blog and School Meals That Rock on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Please join me whenever you can!

31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Chef Robert is a #RealSchoolHero

The School Nutrition Foundation recently announced its 2015 School Nutrition Hero AwardsChef Robert Rusan from Richmond-Maplewood Heights School District in Maplewood, Missouri, is one of the honorees. Robert has been one of my heroes since I started School Meals That Rock in 2011. Very early in the life of our Facebook page, Chef Robert started sending in photos – of his immaculate kitchen, school garden produce and mouth-watering, house-made meals.

Chef Robert Rusan, Maplewood, Missouri (2011)

Chef Robert Rusan, Maplewood, Missouri (2011)

There are many reasons to honor Chef Robert Rusan. The two that really stand out to me are his ability to connect young people with their food – and his commitment to the freshest ingredients possible. This collage from Food Revolution Day 2014 illustrates both. Serving Asparagus Frittata in a high school would be awesome all by itself, but Robert went way beyond that: “Today MRH Teen Cuisine prepared fresh asparagus frittata. The asparagus are from the school garden at ECC and the eggs are from our own MRH chickens. I would like to give a special shout out to our Seed to Table Coordinator/teacher Chef Almut Marino who organized the day!

Asparagus Frittata, MRH Team Cuisine, Food Revolution 2014

Asparagus Frittata, MRH Teen Cuisine, Food Revolution 2014

It is very difficult to pick out one or two photos which really show the commitment of Chef Robert and his district to fresh food and student involvement. This collage and Robert’s own caption do a pretty good job: “Good growers + good food + good cooks = good students.” To get the full flavor of why Chef Robert Rusan is a 2015 SNF School Nutrition Hero, I recommend going to his Facebook page and scrolling through the photos. I guarantee that you will be impressed!!

Good growers + good food + good cooks = good students

Good growers + good food + good cooks = good students


Does the current school food fight benefit hungry kids and hard-working nutrition professionals?

To all my friends and colleagues in the school nutrition world: AASA, AFHK, AHG, AND, CSPI, CIA, SNA, USDA, agriculture, industry and food advocates of all flavors … 

Those who know me professionally know that I have devoted my life to excellence in child nutrition programs. You know how strongly I believe that every child in American deserves to be well nourished and ready to succeed.

Those who know me personally will understand that my family situation (caring for my father in hospice at his home in California) prevents me from jumping into the current whirlwind of school lunch politics. I do not have the time or energy to sort through the conflicting claims and feeding frenzy of media messages to choose a particular side in this food fight. From what I have read, there are valid points on all sides. School meals are a complicated, nuanced issue, one that does not benefit from polarizing tweets and political rhetoric.

I am taking the “side” that I know best – one that often gets lost as the food fight heats up. I am supporting those who eat and cook school meals that rock. Millions of American children depend on school meals for the nourishment they need to succeed in academics, arts and athletics. Very often the quality of school breakfast, lunch, supper and snack far exceeds what they are fed at home or choose for themselves out in the world.

School Lunch, Bethel School District, Eugene, OR

School Lunch, Bethel School District, Eugene, Oregon

Thousands of dedicated, hardworking school nutrition professionals do their best every day to serve the healthiest meals possible –with reams of regulations, serious financial constraints, and complaints from every corner. I am not naïve; I know that nutrition nirvana in not found in every school. I also know that school nutrition programs do not serve “unlimited pizza and french fries every day,” kill kids with junk food, or want to roll back ten years of delicious improvements in school meals. Most are trying to develop farm to school contracts, plant school gardens and write grants for new kitchen equipment, while also helping kids to make healthier choices at school and home.

Farmer Delivers Vegetables to Moharimet School, Oyster River District, Durham, New Hampshire

Farmer Delivers Vegetables to Moharimet School, Oyster River District, Durham, New Hampshire

If I could wave a magic wand, I would ask everyone who cares about kids’ nutrition to take a deep breath, step back and think about how we can truly support school meals that rock. How can we find the middle ground without getting involved in a raucous election year debate that is more about being right than feeding hungry kids? How can we learn from districts that make smart nutrition work – recognizing vast differences among states and communities – to help those that are struggling? One nutrition solution does not fit all, but solutions in one district can help to inspire excellence in others.

We need many hands – from field to fork – to continue the positive changes in school nutrition programs. Legislators, farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, dietitians, chefs, superintendents, school nutrition professionals, parents and students need to talk with each other more –and yell about each other less. If everyone agrees that some flexibility in the meal standards probably makes sense, then let’s sit down and figure how to make that happen.

I doubt anyone inside the beltway is going to listen to my advice. Positions are now entrenched and politics are driving decisions more than science. For everyone else, if you want to get involved in school nutrition, here are my suggestions.

  • Go eat a meal in your local school to experience the daily reality of feeding hundreds of hungry kids in minutes rather than hours.
  • Spend some time in a school kitchen listening to what works under current guidelines and where flexibility would be helpful.
  • Join your local school wellness committee, anti-hunger coalition or local food group to create strategies that work.

What am I going to do? Continue my virtual tour inviting Katie Couric – and anyone else who cares – to do school lunch in cafeterias around the country. Every day I discover a new school serving amazing choices, a new program planting actual seeds of healthy food or a new hero teaching children to cook delicious nutrition.

Eat. Play. Learn. X is for XIGUA or 西瓜 / (watermelon)

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

X is for XIGUA or 西瓜 / (watermelon)

Honestly, I just couldn’t come up with X word for the Learning Connection. I’ve been thinking about it all month – and the only one that came to me was the the Chinese word for watermelon. So, we’re going with XIGUA – and a lovely spring garden, a sight for hungry eyes after months of winter and polar vortices.

Thanks to for a little spring

Thanks to for a little flowering spring

Eat. Play. Learn. V is for VEGETABLES

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.


Yesterday several friends sent me a nice meme of children in a garden with the words: “Share this if you think every school should have a garden” Of course, I think that every school should have a garden! I also believe that VEGETABLES fresh from the garden are perhaps the best way to get kids eating more produce – and I am quite certain that garden-based learning is one of the best way to teach nutrition.

However, I have also visited dozens of school gardens and greenhouses – filled with a variety of VEGETABLES at all times of the year – and I know for a fact that successful school gardens take a lot of hard, every day work. There is planning, teaching, planting, teaching, weeding, teaching and harvesting and then teaching some more.

True, there are tons of school garden resources (some of my favorites are listed below). And, in many states, there are even grants – but it still takes an amazing number of dedicated green thumbs to make a school garden grow VEGETABLES for hungry kids. As my friend Alyssa Densham says, “School gardens don’t grown themselves!”

Some of these school garden resources may be more appropriate for certain parts of the country than others. Check them out with these quick links:

Every successful school garden is the work of many green thumbs

Every successful school garden is the work of many green thumbs

Eat. Play. Learn. U is for USDA Team Nutrition

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

U is for USDA Team Nutrition

USDA – the US Department of Agriculture – has been developing and distributing nutrition education materials for many years. In my opinion, the recent garden-based nutrition resources from USDA’s Team Nutrition are the best they have ever produced. I am a serious fan of the very fun posters that visually express the theme of the Dig In! unit – “the world of possibilities found in growing and eating fruits and vegetables.” It’s hard to pick of favorite, but if I had to, it would probably be the Race Car poster pictured below.

As we near the end of Eat. Play. Learn. posts for February 2014, this USDA Team Nutrition poster seems to pull it all together: Eat more fruits and vegetables, Play with nutrition in fun ways, and Learn about the possibilities in growing in the garden. The Dig In! materials are designed to be “Standards-Based Nutrition Education from the Ground Up.” The ten inquiry-based lessons were created to engage 5th and 6th graders in growing, harvesting, tasting and learning about fruits and vegetables. Putting up a fun USDA poster is a great first step. Using the curriculum materials in a classroom and connecting them to school meals served in the cafeteria might actually impact a child’s eating habits. You can download all the Dig In! materials from the USDA Team Nutrition website – and Team Nutrition schools can order hard copies. Do a kid a favor – check out Dig In! and help them get excited about growing gardens!

USDA Dig In! Posters: Race Car (black beans, blueberries, broccoli, carrots, celery, green beans, oranges, peaches, red bell pepper, rhubarb, sugar snap peas)

USDA Dig In! Posters: Race Car (black beans, blueberries, broccoli, carrots, celery, green beans, oranges, peaches, red bell pepper, rhubarb, sugar snap peas)