School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Hannah in Kansas City, MISSOURI!


Hannah Thornburgh RD/LD, has been a Supervisor/Dietitian in Kansas City Public Schools (KSPS), Kansas City, Missouri, for 16 months. The 100 percent CEP district has about 15,000 enrolled students. Before pandemic school closures, ADP in the district was approximately 80 percent for lunch and 50 percent for breakfast. When KSPS schools closed in March, the district started serving curbside meal packs (one to three days at a time), then closed completely for a month to develop a service model that could serve as many students as possible. Meals on the Bus was created with the transportation department and a goal of having every student no more than a mile from a school meal distribution stop – 190 stops throughout the city. Breakfast and lunch were distributed daily plus weekend meals on Friday (and on days when weather was problematic). Although participation was lower than their traditional in-school service, Meals on the Bus (along with targeted home deliveries) were eventually serving about 75 of usual district meals.

Meals on the Bus for Fall semester 2020

On March 8, 2021, KCPS students started returning to school gradually using a two-day hybrid model. In-school meals include BIC, grab-n-go, and Café in the Classroom (for lunch). Hybrid learners have take-home meals on Tuesday and Friday, on Wednesday curbside bulk meals are distributed to remote learners. Meals in the Classroom (MIC) have gone smoothly because BIC had been the usual mode of service in 15 of 34 districts schools.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year?

Imagine being a new-to-school-nutrition menu planner during the constantly changing environment of waivers and safety precautions from March 2020 through today. That has been Hannah Thornburgh’s year of COVID-19. Coming to school nutrition from a non-profit education position in Operation Food Search in St. Louis, Hannah not only had to learn menu patterns and components, but she also had to learn how to change them with an evolving set of waivers – sometimes on as weekly basis – almost like a Rubik’s cube of menus! Hannah also had to develop new supervision and employee management skills during a time when staff assignments had the potential to be life-or-death situations. Perhaps her toughest challenge was how to keep a positive attitude in new city under lockdown conditions!

Menu for hybrid high school meals, April 2021

What achievement are you the proudest of in the past year?

Although her pandemic year has been plenty stressful, Hannah is grateful to be working in a department where food security and equity are top of mind. Knowing that you are a community lifeline means making “how to reach more people” has been part of every departmental discussion leading directly to initiatives like Meals on the Bus. She is also focused on growing the department’s Facebook page – another way to get the word out by engaging families, district leaders and other stakeholders.

EQUITY is even on their t-shirts

What innovation have you made that you will continue using in the future?

Meals on the Bus will continue as a part of KSPS meal service – likely for summer feeding. It has become an essential part of equity in their district a way to serve the best possible meals to families that need them. Hannah also plans to increase social media – perhaps with a nutrition education channel on YouTube.

Peanut Butter in School Meals (Sponsor: National Peanut Board)


Kids love the great taste of peanut butter, and school nutrition professionals love the protein and other key nutrients of this American staple. Some schools, however, struggle with managing peanut products due to concerns about food allergies. Others are unsure of how to safe use peanut butter as an ingredient in meals beyond the typical PB&J. Here are answers to top questions about peanut products in school from Chef Garrett Berdan, RDN, and Dayle Hayes, MS, RD.

When it comes to managing food allergies, what resources do you recommend for school nutrition pros?

Garrett: Two main resources that I recommend are the Institute for Child Nutrition’s training on food allergy management, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Food Allergies in Schools Toolkit. Also, resources that are available linked from, including training videos for school nutrition professionals.

How can school nutrition pros leverage the culinary versatility of peanuts and peanut butter to help improve school meals?

Garrett: If we can look at it as a protein component to serve on the side with some dippables, that’s always a fun thing for especially younger kids to enjoy. That could be any variety of fruits for dipping into peanut butter. From apples and pears and banana, but also think of peanut butter as a dip for veggies like carrots and celery, and even bell pepper strips.

The flavor of peanuts is really on trend now in cuisine that we see outside of schools. Certainly, with Southeast Asian flavor profiles, peanuts and peanut sauce are an important flavor aspect of those cuisines. Those can be easily integrated onto a school menu with dishes like noodles with a peanut sauce, or maybe a chilled veggie and noodle salad. That definitely takes things beyond the peanut butter and jelly.


Peanut Sauce with Noodles: Recipe video available at

What is your favorite preparation for peanut butter being used in school meals?

Dayle: The thing that I’m most excited about is what people are calling power packs or grab and go meals. The ones I’ve seen often include an individual container of peanut butter along with pita bread, pita chips, or whole grain crackers. Then some sliced apples, maybe some baby carrots or celery sticks, and often an added protein source like a cheese stick.

How does peanut butter help lower costs for school nutrition programs?

Dayle: School nutrition programs are very limited in terms of overall food costs and often pennies per serving can make a difference in balancing budgets. For consumers and foodservice channels, peanuts and peanut butter are often always listed as one of the least expensive protein sources. It compares so favorably with the cost of other proteins. When you reduce the cost of the meat or the meat alternate in the “center of the tray,” then you have more food dollars for fresh produce and other local items. Farm to School is one of the fastest growing areas of school nutrition programs and any money that directors have to spend in purchasing local products works to their benefit.


What nutritional benefits do peanuts and peanut butter provide for school aged children?

Dayle: Protein is one of the most obvious nutritional benefits of peanuts and peanut butter for children. The unsaturated fat plus the protein provides satiety in a meal or snack. Peanut products can offer an extended source of energy for children’s physical activity and for their brain activity too.

In addition to protein, there are three other nutrients that I always think about in terms of school-age children. One is potassium. Potassium is one of the nutrients of concern that health experts know we’re not getting enough of for our everyday needs, and peanut butter has potassium in it. In fact, one serving (one ounce) of peanuts provides 6 percent of the daily value and one serving (2 Tablespoons) of peanut butter provides 5 percent of the daily value. Also, peanut butter pairs well with some other kid-friendly, high potassium foods like apples and celery.

Peanuts and peanut butter are also a source of fiber as well. One serving of peanuts contain 10 percent of the daily value and one serving of peanut butter has 8 percent of the daily value. Because most of the meat alternate foods do not have any fiber in them, this combination of protein, potassium, and fiber is great.

The other nutrient in peanuts and peanut butter I want to mention is iron, because in the recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Scientific Advisory Committee called out iron as a nutrient of concern for girls and young women. One serving of peanuts provides 7 percent of the daily value and one serving of peanut butter provides 3 percent of the daily value. Any time we can find a source of iron that students like to eat it’s a win-win situation in terms of their nutrition.


Preparing Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches in School Foodservice: Video at


31 Days of #RealSchoolFood: Success Starts with the Recipe

On December 4, 2014, I had the privilege and pleasure of presenting a USDA Foods webinar – Anatomy of Standardized Recipe: Finding and Creating School Recipes for Success with USDA Foods – with Malissa Marsden. The recording of the hour presentation is now available on YouTube. Malissa did a terrific job of laying the groundwork with the critical importance of standardized recipes.


Malissa then offered a precise, step-by-step analysis of HOW to create and adapted standardized recipes for school meals. I highly recommend listening to the webinar recording – because I cannot do her presentation just here.

I had a much easier job – talking about some resources for recipes that can be used as is or adapted to meet your needs. Sadly, I have learned that no everyone knows about the best SEARCHABLE source for USDA recipes, the What’s Cooking website. This site includes the USDA recipes available on the National Food Service Management (NFSMI) recipe database (which are only alphabetical by recipe name) PLUS some additional recipes from other sources. A couple of things to note when using the QUANTITY RECIPE side of this website (there are also family size recipes available).

  • Not all the recipes are standardized, but you can check a box to see only those that are (426).
  • You can also search by course of the meal.
  • You can create a ‘cookbook’ of the recipes you like. However, you cannot currently save it online. If you collect recipes, they will need to be printed.


There are many other wonderful sources of standardized recipes for schools. You do NOT have to reinvent the recipe ‘wheel,’ you can always adapt one to fit your kitchen and your customers! In the next several blogs, I’ll explore recipe sources for school meal components, here are two state-level recipe sources – from Michigan and Texas – that are worth checking out.

Michigan Team Nutrition has lots of wonderful recipes – both printed and as YouTube videos. I can personally vouch for these recipes created by Chef Dave Mac – I have tasted many of them while doing trainings across Michigan.


Education Services Center for Region 11 is also collecting and standardizing some delicious recipes. While their current recipe collection is small, I am sure that they will adding more quickly – thanks to Chef V and the other ‘Foodnatics’ there!


Check out these three sources of recipes – and let’s us know your favorite sources to share. We have five more days of recipes resources and we would love to include yours!