Taking Whoa to Wow: The Realities During National School Lunch Week 2021

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Is it possible that this school year is worse for school meal programs than last year? Talk to a few school nutrition heroes and the answer is a resounding YES.

First, the good news: All students K-12 in US schools can receive meals at no cost during SY 2021-2022. This means increased participation (more than double in some schools) and more kids getting healthy meals. This is a very good thing, until you also think about supply chain disruptions and staff shortages.

Word Cloud compiled from parent letters by Mary Rochelle, The School Food Project, Boulder Valley School District Boulder Valley School District, Colorado

There are lots of supply chain problems – late deliveries, no deliveries, substitutions and some amazingly mis-labeled cases. Imagine getting cases of frozen blueberries instead of pizza sticks, sugar instead of pizza sauce, or minced clams instead of bagels. While shortages and substitutions may be relatively easy when feeding a family of four, culinary magic tricks become serious business when you are feeding hundreds or even thousands of hungry kids at school.

Schools are facing increased demand and, in many cases, decreased supply of critical food ingredients and sometimes even the trays needed to serve them. And one more thing that is in short supply: workers. Like restaurants and stores, many school nutrition programs cannot fill open positions and are constantly juggling schedules when workers are out sick. Remember, schools have been feeding millions of students since March 2020, almost twenty months without any real breaks. From emergency curbside pickups and home doorstep deliveries, they have now moved to meals in the classroom and lines in the cafeteria. Schools may have been closed, but school foodservice was – and still is – open for business. These nutrition heroes have worked long, hard hours and they are tired – very, very tired.  

Rosemead School District, California, takes pizza shortage to pizza WOW during National Fruits and Veggies Month #HaveAPlant #HaveAPlantwithCheese

But here’s the incredible thing: During the current challenges, their creativity has continued to shine! As Moss Crutchfield, a school chef, put it, school nutrition pros know how to “turn a WHOA into WOW!” When pepperoni wedge pizza did not show up in Rosemead (CA) school kitchens, they “got innovative with vegetable pizza using roasted broccoli, mushrooms and peppers. We surprisingly found out most students loved the substitution!” In Riverview Garden School District (MO), Shannon Ebron took the pizza substitution challenge head on: “No meat topping pizzas in stock, no problem! Buffalo Chicken and Turkey-Ham Hawaiian pizza comin’ in hot from RGSD high school! Speed scratch pizza featuring a commercial 4-cheese pizza as the base.”

As a chef, Moss (new Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Epping School District, NH) has been using his mad chef skills to create new recipes out of existing USDA commodities: “Asian orange chicken failed to arrive, but I had plenty of commodity chicken and peaches at my new district. I always keep some basic foundational ingredients like teriyaki and soup bases on hand, so I made a yellow chicken curry with spices and puréed fruit. Literally DAY ONE of the new school year. Now they ask for ‘that” chicken!”

Yellow Curry Chicken, prepared by Chef Moss Crutchfield, Epping School District, New Hampshire

So, what am I thinking as we celebrate National School Lunch Week (10/11 through 10/15)? I’m thinking that the creativity of school nutrition professionals is unsurpassed in the culinary world. They have fed children WELL during a pandemic (along with hurricanes, floods and forest fires). They have searched deep into their communities to partner with local farmers, ranchers, bakers, chefs, stores and restaurants – helping local agricultural producers and food businesses survive during hard times. They are the world to hungry children as you can read in this note, shared by Vince Caugin from Natomas USD (CA).

Thank you note from student to Natomas USD Lunch Lady

What can you do? Rather than complaining about school lunch substitutions, take a few minutes to support school nutrition professionals – recognizing that they are doing the best they can, with what they have, in very difficult situations. If you work in a school, take a few minutes to handout meals at a breakfast cart or to wipe down tables between classes in the cafeteria. A simple thanks can also do wonders. It doesn’t have to be complicated or elaborate. Handmade cards from students are always in style. Thank you cards from USDA Team Nutrition are easy to download and send or print out at https://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/stronger-school-meals-educational-materials

USDA School Meals Strong materials available at https://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/stronger-school-meals-educational-materials

Grace and Gratitude: 10 Truths about School Meals, Labor Day, 2021

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Some of my best friends are school nutrition professionals. On any ordinary Labor Day, I would salute their hard work, post a few photos of colorful school meals, and move on. But this is no ordinary Labor Day, especially since it is the second observance during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, September 6 is also the first day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, a time of introspection and reflection. September is Hunger Awareness/Action Month as well.

For all these reasons, I am sharing some important news about school meals and the dedicated professionals who plan, prepare and serve them to 30 million plus children every school day. There is good news: All students K-12 can enjoy school meals at no cost during SY 2021-22, along with challenging news: Feeding all students K-12 during SY 2021-22 is no easy task. Unfortunately, there is also sad news: School nutrition heroes are being treated with disrespect – by school administrators, by educators, by families, and, in some worst-case scenarios, by their colleagues in the nutrition community.

In my opinion, the only things that we should be saying to school nutrition professionals this September are thank you and what can I do to help? Like your mom told you, if you cannot say kind things, please don’t say anything at all. Here’s why:

1. School lunch ladies and food dudes are true heroes. When COVID shut down the US in March 2020, school nutrition programs kept serving meals for hungry families – curbside drive-thrus when virtually every restaurant was closed, and many grocery stores had empty shelves.

2. School nutrition professionals are exhausted. They have served billions of emergency meals on the frontlines with little time to rest and recuperate. They have been creative with meal kits, emergency food boxes and dining in the classroom – but now they are tired, very tired.

3. Healthy school meals for all increases participation. School nutrition professionals know the face of childhood hunger. They saw it before the pandemic, and they watched food insecurity grow during COVID. They are eager to feed as many students as possible and to see meal counts go up.

4. School meal programs are struggling with staffing. Help-wanted signs are everywhere in foodservice. School food programs are short-staffed at the same time they have more students in line for meals. Scratch cooking with fresh and local ingredients also requires more labor hours.

5. Schools have serious problems getting food they order. If you’ve heard the term supply chain disruptions, you know that food products and equipment are also hard to come by. School nutrition programs are having trouble getting many student favorites in the increased amounts they need.

6. School dining spaces have strict safety guidelines. Keeping kids safe during COVID takes extra work and vigilance. Social distancing while eating and keep dining spaces clean requires extra staff time that is already in short supply. Students may also need extra TLC as they adjust to being back in school.

7. School nutrition leaders go the extra mile every day. They go to work on a holiday to take a delivery that cannot wait until Tuesday. They go in on a weekend to check a freezer alarm. They leave their office computers to go into schools to wash dishes, cut up veggies, serve meals and whatever else is necessary.

8. Contingency planning for B-C-D-E is the new normal. Even the best run programs need much more that a plan B. Directors are continually planning for the “unexpected” – school closures, staff rosters with necessary CVOID quarantining, postponed deliveries and _______________.

9. Rather than complaining, take time to help or support. Give school nutrition professionals grace for doing the best they can, with what they have, in very difficult situations. If you are in a school, take a few minutes to handout meals at a breakfast cart or to wipe down tables between classes in the cafeteria.

10. A simple “thanks” can do wonders. It doesn’t have to be complicated or elaborate. Handmade cards from students are always in style. These thank you cards from USDA Team Nutrition are easy to download and send or print out: https://www.fns.usda.gov/tn/stronger-school-meals-educational-materials

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Brian, on a mission at St. Labre Mission!

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Brian S. Jones has been the Food Service Director at St. Labre Indian School (a private Catholic School) in Montana for five years. The 100% CEP district enrolls 600 students from the Crow and Northern Cheyenne reservations in three buildings, each with its own kitchen. Pre-COVID the program was preparing breakfast and lunch meals for all students. Brian and his 26 staff members have a well-deserved reputation for excellence: St. Labre meals are made from scratch, everything from the baking of all breads and rolls to cutting and slicing fruits and vegetables for salad bars and lines. Brian also been known as the “bison man” in SNA circles because the school raises, processes and serves their own bison meat.

When schools closed in March and students were scattered throughout a sparsely inhabited area without reliable transportation, Brian knew he had to do something different to keep feeding his customers. He had always been thinking about packaging systems in the back of his mind and knew this was the time to purchase them. The administration agreed to buy three packaging machines, one for each kitchen. Later a donor read about their success with packaged meals and donated funds for a fourth machine to increase capacity. The program made, packaged and delivered over 900 meals per day – the same high quality, house-made meals that they served before the pandemic, like salads and parfaits. The schools are gradually returning to in-person learning with meals in the classroom and some older students living full-time in the dormitory.  

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

To achieve Brian’s vision of a quality end-product, the entire staff had to be re-trained. Basically school kitchens with tray lines had to be turned into production kitchens with assembly lines. Cooks needed training on adapted recipes and the packaging crew needed to learn the ins-and-outs of packaging machines. Due to supply chain and storage issues (challenges in the best of times), the district also had to go to shelf stable milk.

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

Brian doesn’t hesitate for a moment in giving credit where credit is due: He is incredibly proud of his staff. He recognizes that much of their work satisfaction comes from daily interactions with students around nourishing food. They were able to take that energy and passion for mostly personal relationships and turn it into the more routine jobs of packing and delivery food. Because transportation routes had be reconfigured and buses could not go unto certain areas, food services employees also became food van drivers – a sometimes treacherous situation due to weather and the potential for COVID exposure.

Employees have embraced production meals

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

Sadly the reservations served by St. Labre School have been hard hit by the pandemic with high rates of infection and deaths. It is the tradition of the tribes to serve large funeral feasts for extended families and friends, often at events for up to 150 people. The multiple packaging machines have been getting lots of use for catering these events (at cost) – sometimes up to six in one week.

Production Meals in St. Labre Indian School

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Elizabeth and the Carson City community!

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Elizabeth Snyder, DTR, has been Director of Nutrition, in Carson City (Nevada) School District for just over 2 years. Elizabeth is a district employee who works closely with the Chartwells K12 Director of Dining Services and Executive Chef. The district has enrollment of 7,900 students with about 55 percent eligible for free/reduced price meals prior to the COVID19 school closures in March 2020. Pre-pandemic the district has an ADP of 53 percent at lunch and 33 percent at breakfast. Nevada schools were closed on March 15th and by March 17th Carson City had opened five strategically located sites for daily meals plus a weekend pack, adding 3 bus routes on March 19th. During summer feeding hot meals were served at the Boys and Girls Club – and Elizabeth developed four contingency plans for the opening of school year 2020-21. None of these plans worked but Nutrition Services staff have learned to cope with constant change and focused on providing meals to those students who need it the most. Currently 25 percent of students do fully remote learning and the rest follow a hybrid schedule – with multiple types of meal service to accommodate all students.

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

Personally Elizabeth found the challenge was not knowing what to expect. She likes to have a plan and found it challenging to let go of plans A, B, C and D – and then move on to something that she had not even considered.

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

The silver lining of the Elizabeth’s pandemic is that it showed her what an incredible team she has and what a giving community exists in Carson City. The dedicated team of school lunch heroes worked tirelessly to safely prep, cook, pack and distribute meals to the children who needed them. Her managers have done an amazing job with the pandemic ‘pivot’ and are “on top of everything.” Right now they are operating three different service models out of all (10) school sites. Elizabeth is very grateful for how everyone – teachers, staff, parents, volunteers, and community members – came together and focused on keeping kids fed at schools and other sites. Several community groups and businesses provided donations, including franchises like Del Taco, Pizza Factory and Dutch Brothers Coffee.

Carson City families appreciate Nutrition Services

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

Elizabeth had two answers to this question: First, she notes that her department has gotten “really good at grab-n-go options.” They have new equipment including insulated bags so that they can do a better job of to-go meals in the future. She specifically mentioned enhanced meals for field trips – beyond the usual sandwich in a brown bag. Another silver lining during COVID-19 has been connections with the district’s media person, Dan Davis. This has helped Elizabeth get the word(s) out about nutrition services, especially the availability of free meals. Families were confused as waivers changed over time and social media was very helpful in clarifying the situation as it evolved.

District Facebook page shares Nutrition Services info with families

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Erin Primer, personally, professionally!

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Erin Primer, CDM, CFPP, has been Food at Nutrition Services Director the San Luis Coastal Unified School District (SLCUSD) for five years. SLCUSD serves 7,500 students (35 percent free/reduced pre-lockdown, now approximately 40 percent) and served 30,000 per week before schools closed in March 2020. The district is a mostly agricultural area surrounding the city of San Luis Obispo and several small towns on the Central Coast of California.

Local farms in SLCUSD provide fresh options for pantry kits

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

If you had asked Erin Primer a year ago, “Can you operate SLCUSD Food and Nutrition Services from your home?,” she would have said that you were bonkers. And yet, that is exactly what she has done. Because she is immune-compromised, Erin had doctor’s orders to stay home. She has had to provide 100 percent remote leadership for 25 employees scattered in 15 schools throughout SLO county. While this has necessitated many changes, it has worked – and worked well! From March 2020 through February 2021, SLCUSD Nutrition Services provided one million meals to district families through drive-up, curbside locations. While Erin says she occasionally feels like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain, she has learned how to lead successfully and maintain trust in non-physical ways.

One challenging year, one MILLION meals provided

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

Ms. Primer is proud of her department’s resilience noting that school foodservice in general has not always been known for moving quickly or for being change makers. In SLCUSD Erin now knows that they are capable of responding to changes positively and they can literally do anything. Going into lockdown, many of her staff members were understandably afraid; now they now believe in their abilities to pivot quickly and effectively – even when “the boss” is not able to be present in person. Nutrition Services staff have learned to trust Erin and to trust themselves. This has led to some remarkable transformations – in their attitudes and in the foods they serve.

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

Trust is very important to Erin Primer and she has worked for five years to build trusting relationships with local families and with local agricultural producers. She recognized that the pandemic lockdown presented opportunities as well as challenges – and that school food was going to be a frontline issue for families, farmers and ranchers. SLCUSD has always offered local foods and now they are laser focused on plant-forward, climate-friendly food options. All their weekly pantry-kits are packed with the freshest food possible and multiple serving ideas even for those with limited resources.

Creativity and taste will continue to be the focus of SCLUSD pantry boxes and in-school offerings. Erin has always wanted to move vegetarian options beyond boring cheese pizza – and she taken every opportunity to serve options like Thai Basil Lentil burgers, sandwiches with Strawberry Chia Jam and Jujube Snacks along with multi-colored radishes and beets (usually very locally-grown). Students and their families have become more willing to try things out because “they trust us. We have invited so many more folks into our program with school food that tastes great and supports the community.” Nutrition and culinary education, including National Nutrition Month Drive-Thru BINGO, are an important part of the ongoing plan as SLCUSD Nutrition Services continues to expand plant-forward, planet-friendly school food.

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Laura-Zelda and her RDN Team!

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Laura-Zelda S. Villarreal, MBA, RDN, LD, SNS, has been Director of Food & Nutrition Services for Brownsville ISD for 20 months – 12 months of that during the COVID-19 pandemic! Brownsville is city of 181,000 located on the Texas-Mexico border. The district serves 40,000+ students under CEP. Pre-pandemic they served approximately 30,000 breakfasts and 35,000 lunches; currently their ADP is about 10,000.

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

According to Villarreal, the biggest challenge was implementing COVID safety procedures when even the terminology was foreign. What does PPE stand for? Where do I purchase it? How can I get enough for my staff? With a million calls, strong support from the local Educational Service Center (ESC) and navigating a very steep learning curve, she was able to get the equipment and supplies necessary to keep her staff safe on the frontlines so they could serve thousands of meals daily. The accelerated learning continued with every new ‘pivot’ necessitated by ever-changing guidelines and waivers. Laura-Zelda described it as learning to turn a semitruck on a dime!

Brownsville ISD Food and Nutrition Services is full of sweet hearts!

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

Villarreal is proud of keeping the department’s approximately 487 staff members employed and safe during COVID. Her leadership team had to completely rethink their meal service platforms and reach their customers wherever they needed meals. In addition to food, they have fun giveaways and engage families by providing online nutrition education and food demos. All this has required new partnerships, especially with the districts’ transportation department and their routes managed by GPS. It was made possible by over $200,000 in grants from GENYOUTH and Dairy Max, Action for Healthy Kids, Texas Department of Agriculture, and No Kid Hungry. Laura-Zelda suggested a new motto for her department: We can do THIS and THIS and THIS and THIS too!

Home delivery boxes being loaded onto school bus

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

While several innovations are sustainable into the future, the Home Delivery Meal Program (HMDP) is most important to Villarreal. Many BISD families experience food insecurity because of insufficient food and limited resources to purchase more. Adapting the BISD FNS operation during COVID-19 was critical to reaching those in need. Their mantra is (and always has been): If the students cannot come to the food, we are going to do all we can to take the food to them. HMDP uses an efficient system operated by GPS software and makes online enrollment easy (watch video for details). Meal kits (5 breakfasts and 7 suppers) are delivered weekly to 500 stops soon to be 1,800 stops after Spring Break. Participating HMDP households receive a yard sign indicating the students are recipients of meal delivery and a placard allowing parents/guardians to pick-up a daily hot lunch at any curbside school. Laura-Zelda is proud to say the HMDP reinforces their commitment to the school community and plans to continue it during summer feeding and whenever it is needed. “Parents have expressed immense gratitude, and to see their faces, it makes it all worth it.”

District staff delivers HMDP signs

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Jeanne!

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Jeanne Reilly has been the Director of School Nutrition in RSU #14, Windham-Raymond, Maine, for 12 years. Her rural district serves 3300 students. Prior to March 2020, the district’s free/reduced percentage was 34 percent.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year? Jeanne’s personal and professional challenges have been intertwined. On a personal level her challenge has been exhaustion, making it hard to find a positive attitude every morning. Professionally she needed to keep her staff positive, engaged and connected to each other. She needed to keep them focused on the “Maine” goal – their core mission to feed the district’s students – while maintaining staff levels. Motivation was critical but also challenging with constant changes in learning plans, USDA waivers and personal safety recommendations. If you are reading this, you probably know these struggles all too well.

Bulk meals during COVID-19

What achievement are you the proudest of during COVID-19? Through a seemingly endless round of pivots, Windham Raymond School Nutrition Program staff have stayed flexible, open-minded and innovative. They currently serve meals in four ways (cafeteria, other areas of schools, curbside and delivery) and have maintained 75 percent of pre-pandemic participation with only 40-50 percent of students in school at any point. Jeanne is rightly proud of her team’s achievements which she attributes in large part of years’ of trainings (customer service, culinary, HHFKA regulations, etc.) and team building. Her leadership goal has been to enable her team to grasp an idea quickly – and to run with it.

RSU Superintendent observes Mobile Meals (top) and Chef provides contact free delivery

Support from the district and the communities served by RSU #14 has been vital to maintaining participation and positive perception of the program. Jeanne is proud that the program was able to build their already-strong communication channels to let their customers know that (1) we are here to provide nutritious, safe food for your families and (2) we will keep you updated on inevitable changes asap. Their strong social media presence and regular Eblasts helped to market emergency meals and to provide ongoing education about nutrition, food safety and other critical issues.

What innovation(s) have you made that you will continue using in the future? “In order to meet social distancing guidelines, we have been serving meals to students throughout our buildings – classrooms, hallways and access points. This has been very successful and we plan to maintain it in the future.” Jeanne notes that they have been able to demonstrate to teachers and administration that feeding students is essential and that serving in a variety of locations can be efficient, effective and safe.

Grab & Go Breakfast Kiosks (L) and Concession Stand becomes serving station (R)

Mushrooms in Schools

I am thrilled to be at the United Fresh 2019 Convention & Expo in Chicago June 10th through 12th, on behalf of Mushrooms in Schools, one of my favorite clients.  As you have likely read in many places, mushrooms are on-trend! MarthaStewart.com declared  Mushrooms Are the Food of 2019: Here’s Why It’s Good News for Everyone.

Fresh vegetable medley for roasted vegetables and wraps in Birmingham Public Schools, Michigan

What you may not know is that school meal programs have been introducing the savory flavors of mushrooms and their nutritional benefits to the youngest foodies across the US. While pizza and salad bars remain the #1 way that students meet mushrooms in schools, they are also served in stir-fries and ramen bowls, on top of burgers and Philly steak sandwiches, and blended into taco and burrito fillings!

Why Mushrooms in Schools?

It is really quite simple: Sustainability, nutrition and flavor. Did you know that mushrooms are considered one of the most sustainably produced foods on the planet? Choosing mushrooms to enhance meat and vegetarian dishes is not only good for your health – it’s good for the planet because mushrooms require less water, energy, and land to produce than animal-based proteins. Mushrooms provide many of the same nutritional benefits as vegetables, as well as attributes commonly found in meat, beans and grains. They provide vital vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin D (read package for varieties that have been treated with UV light to boost levels of D), B-Vitamins, and antioxidants. And like most veggies, mushrooms are fat and cholesterol-free as well as very low in sodium. Mushrooms are filled with umani flavor, “a satisfying sense of deep, complete flavor, balancing savory flavors and full-bodied taste with distinctive qualities of aroma and mouthfeel” according to the Mushroom Council.

This kid-approved school lunch from POWER UP CAFÉ in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD, Texas, showcases a mushroom-pepper-onion trinity that can be blended with black beans (a shown here in street tacos), lentils, beef, pork, turkey or chicken. Using mushrooms in flavorful blends helps to increase vegetable intake while minimizing the amount of sodium needed for a delicious meal – that’s a win-win for school lunch!

Harvest of the Month in Farm to School Programs

Mushrooms grow year-round so they are perfect for farm to school programs and are especially useful during colder months when other produce items may not be readily available. Here is a delicious example from Philadelphia Public Schools where mushrooms were served as a February Harvest of the Month in both a green salad and a popular brown gravy over chicken and rice.

Mushrooms in Schools Resources

The Mushroom Council is creating a new Farm to School Toolkit to help schools connect their students to delicious new ways of enjoying mushrooms. You can download these creative materials on the Mushrooms in Schools website where you can also find delicious mushroom recipes for school lunch and videos for using the IQF Diced Mushrooms available from USDA Foods.

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!

RockledgeFruitapolooza

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

 

 

Donna Martin’s #FarmtoSchool Success in Burke County, Georgia

2017-04 Policy To Plate Donna

Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, addresses the 2016 Policy to Plate meeting in Washington, DC

On June 1, 2017, Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, LD, SNS, FAND, became President of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. In this prestigious volunteer position Donna will lead over 100,000 credentialed practitioners including registered dietitian nutritionists, dietetic technicians, registered, and other dietetics professionals, into the second century of the Academy – focused on a global vision of “A world where all people thrive through the transformative power of food and nutrition.”

Donna’s day job is equally important: She is Director of the School Nutrition Program for Burke County Public Schools, Georgia. Donna’s passionate belief in the transformative power of nutrition is deeply felt in Burke County, which has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the US. She has brought local produce – and local whole grain grits – into the cafeterias and started farmers markets for families and school staff. Her work to transform school nutrition in rural Georgia was recognized the White House and, in April 2016, First Lady Michelle Obama and Al Roker visited Burke Middle School to help plant the school garden. Her efforts to reduce food waste and support local farmers were recognized with top honors in the 2016 Georgia Organics Gold Radish Awards.

I was fortunate to visit Burke County Schools in April 2017 to personally see (and taste) the fruits (and veggies) of Donna Martin’s labors. My day started with a delicious grab-n-go breakfast Yogurt Parfait featuring blueberries, strawberries and bananas at Burke County Middle School, followed by a classroom Charlie Cart nutrition-cooking lesson. The fourth graders made delicious mini-strawberry shortcakes from scratch – with local berries, of course. My next stop was the best – a Georgia Grown lunch at Waynesboro Primary School, featuring local White Acre peas, collards, strawberries, cornbread, chicken and milk. This was Southern school food at its best and, if you are ever near Waynesboro, Georgia, I highly recommend that you visit for lunch.

Waynesboro Lunch

Waynesboro Elementary School Georgia Grown School Lunch

Donna Martin has long been a role model for everyone in the Georgia School Nutrition Association. Now she is an inspiration to all Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics members who want to be actively involved in transforming food systems across the country and around the world.

You can follow Harvest Bright, Burke County’s Farm to School Program on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.