#ThinkFood with Dayle Hayes, Child Nutrition Leader and Blogger

This was originally posted on the The Dairy Report on September 5, 2012. I really appreciated the opportunity to participate in the Colorado Future of Food conversation and was honored to chat in more depth with Jean Ragalie. 

As Karen Kafer discussed in an earlier post, the dairy team hit the road this summer to participate in “Future of Food: Food in the 21st Century,” a solutions-oriented discussion on food security. Our journey began in Washington, D.C., then continued out west, in Colorado and Arizona, and returned back to the east coast with a summit in Vermont late July. At each summit, I met with various leaders in agriculture, education and government and learned more about dairy’s role in the larger conversation about food security.

At the Colorado event, I was given the opportunity to chat with featured summit speaker and School Meals That Rock creator, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, about her experiences as an event speaker and her thoughts on the future of child nutrition. I’ve included some of our conversation below. In the meantime, I hope you join the discussions online with #ThinkFood and tune into the next summit, scheduled for October 3 in Chicago, with the Midwest Dairy Association!

Jean Ragalie (JR): What was your biggest takeaway from the event in Denver?

Dayle Hayes (DH): The time when I was reminded of what Harry Truman said when signing the first National School Act in 1946: “In the long view, no nation is healthier than its children, or more prosperous than its farmers.” It was also interesting that speakers’ comments reinforced this over and over again from different vantage points throughout the event.

JR: With regard to child nutrition, what have you seen really work and create change over the past decade?

DH: I believe that it takes a combination of three factors:

  1. Government regulations and incentives, like the HealthierUS School Challenge
  2. Product innovation, like flavored milk, and food system changes, like more local foods in quantities
  3. Local school champions, like those involved in Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP 60). I can say in my experience, the dairy industry programs and education of all kinds, including FUTP 60, have made a game-changing contribution to the process.

JR: What is the role of school systems in child nutrition?

DH: Essential, obviously. However, for too long, many districts have seen school meals as an irritating necessity. Clearly, the “herd ‘em in, ‘herd ‘em out” mentality is not conducive to dining enjoyment and to trying new foods. Schools must see the cafeteria as equal in importance to the classroom. Otherwise, the new meal patterns will have little sustainable effect.

JR: What are the latest tools available to help improve child nutrition?

DH: New regulations, new products and new programs are important to help improve child nutrition. The 2012 Meal Pattern update will have tremendous implications for child nutrition programs. New products from dairy companies are making it easier to serve tasty, healthful choices. Many national and local organizations provide grants of all sizes to school nutrition programs for training, equipment, and implementation. FUTP 60 is one national example, and there are literally hundreds of others. If a school wants to make improve their nutrition program, there are resources to help them.

JR: If you’re concerned about child nutrition as a health or nutrition professional, what should you do to make a difference?

DH: Partner with the professionals in your school who are also interested in (and required to make) changes with the new regulations. Help your school get the resources they need to make system-wide changes and support the nutrition program within the school and community.

USDA New-trition Guidelines for School Meals: Business as usual – or whole new ballgame

On January 26, 2012, USDA released the long-awaited 2012 Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs.  According to the website: “Through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by the First Lady and signed by President Obama, USDA is making the first major changes in school meals in 15 years, which will help us raise a healthier generation of children.”

As students head back-to-school meals in cafeterias across the nation, the new standards are generating lots of media buzz with headlines like Schools scrambling to serve up healthier lunch choices, More vegetables, higher prices coming to school cafeteria lunch lines this fall, and Some Cocke County students finding new school lunches hard to swallow. From these news stories, it’s clear that the new guidelines are, sadly, a new whole ballgame for some districts.

The really good news for hungry children, their families and educators is that many schools have been working towards the very same science-based standards for years, even decades. This is especially true for the 3,871 schools that have met the criteria for a HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) award, a strategic component of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative. This impressive achievement is a strong indication of how committed school nutrition professionals are to offering students the healthiest meals possible:

“In February 2010, the First Lady and USDA challenged stakeholders to double the number of HUSSC schools within a year and add 1,000 schools per year for two years after that. We exceeded our first goal last June and this year we’ve again exceeded expectations. Not only have we surpassed our second year goal we’ve more than met our goal for June 2013 a year ahead of schedule!

How often does “ahead of schedule” happen in the real world!! Here are some of the key changes what will show up in some schools – and will be just business as usual in many other districts:

MORE VEGETABLE VARIETY

Schools are now required to serve a wide-variety of colorful vegetables each week. Additionally, in order for a lunch meal to be reimbursable, each tray will need to include at least ½ cup of fruits and/or vegetables. This will be easy in districts like Lake Stevens, Washington, where students make a “rainbow at the salad bar.”

MORE FRUIT

Students must now be offered a fresh, frozen, dried, or canned (in juice) fruit for lunch. In the Montague, Michigan, School Food Service Department, they serve fruit choices daily on the lunch line. Michigan apples are so popular that Montague set a 2011 Guinness World Record for eating 9,329 apples at the same time.

MORE WHOLE GRAINS

As per the new standards, at least half of all grains served in school lunch must now be whole grain rich (starting in 2014 all grain products must be whole grain rich). In Douglas County Schools, Colorado, they made popular pizza smarter with a whole grain crust, roasted vegetables, and a balsamic glaze (chosen by a high school student panel).

ONLY LOW-FAT and FAT-FREE MILK 

Under new USDA guidance, schools must offer two varieties of milk: unflavored milk can be non-fat or 1%, while flavored milk must be non-fat. This milk policy has been the standard in Portland (Oregon) Public Schools Nutrition Services for more than a decade. As you can see, they also offer a colorful selection of produce!

Other mandated changes for school lunch meals include:

  • Calorie ranges for three grade groupings (K-5, 6-8, and 9-12)
  • Minimum and maximum servings per week for both grains and meat/meat alternates (cheese, beans, etc.) for each of the grade groupings

New-trition on a School Lunch Tray: What Would Julia Say?

Two things have been top of my mind recently: First, as students head back-to-school, USDA’s new guidelines for school meals have begun to “hit the trays” in cafeterias nationwide. Secondly, foodies everywhere have been celebrating the 100th birthday of Julia Child’s with a veritable banquet of of quotes, tributes and reminiscences.

While I know that Julia Child commented on fast food (in fact, we agree that In-N-Out Burger is our favorite chain), I cannot find any specific opinions she expressed about school lunch. Perhaps that’s because national attention was just beginning to focus on school food when she passed away in 2004. However, based on several of her famous quotes, I have decided that Julia Child would be quite pleased with current school food trends – and would admire the work of my favorite school nutrition heroes as well.

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients. This simple salad from the Power-Up Cafe at Cypress-Fairbanks ISD just outside Houston, Texas, elegantly illustrates the trend toward fresh ingredients in schools. The staff included Romaine lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, jicama and chickpeas (tossed in a chili lime seasoning) to meet the new guidelines for greater vegetable variety on school lunch trays. Now, all they need is a name for the salad; so far my vote is with Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I wonder what Julia would have called it – besides gorgeous!

How can a nation be called great if its bread tastes like Kleenex? I know that Julia would have loved Peggy Lawrence, Director of Food Services in Rockdale, Georgia (and the 2012 Georgia SNA Director of the Year). In her district of 16,000 students, many whole grain bread products are baked in each school’s kitchen. Peggy knows that the aroma of made-from-scratch, no-Kleenex-here cinnamon and sandwich rolls brings students and staff into the cafeteria for freshly baked, whole grain goodness. It also helps her menus exceed the new standards for half of all grains products to be whole grain this year.

Peggy and Julia would certainly agree that “… no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.” That’s why Peggy and other savvy directors spend plenty of training time – in groups and one-on-one – to insure that the best possible products are served in their schools. From coast-to-coast, school nutrition professionals have been upgrading their culinary skills to roll out the complex USDA Nutrition Standards for School Meals, with colorful eye-appleaing menus and the nutrient-richness that children need – minus the excess fat, sodium and sugar that they can do without.

This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook – try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun! School nutrition professionals have a very important – and very tough – job. They have to meet the new federal standards on minimal budgets (often about $1.00 per lunch for food). They have to satisfy the taste buds of a generation that has grown up on fast food, chicken fingers and pizza. They have to serve hundreds (or even thousands) of students in crowded cafeterias quickly and efficiently. They face criticism from all sides – everyone from principals and parents to TV chefs and teachers thinks they know more about school meals that people who actually prepare and serve them.

And yet, like these smiling professionals at an August 16th back-to-school training in Provo, Utah, they are eager to learn new skills and proud to serve children the safest, most nutritious, best tasting meals possible. They may be a tiny bit fearful about the increased scrutiny that the new lunch guidelines will bring, but I can guarantee you that they know how to have fun! I believe that Julia Child would indeed be proud of these professionals who are “Moving in the Future” and ready to help a generation become fit, healthy, and ready to succeed!

For a True School Nutrition Hero: A Letter of Reference

To Whom It May Concern:

It is with great pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation for Doreen Simonds, currently Manager for Nutrition Services in the Waterford, Michigan, School District. I have interviewed Doreen multiple times over the past several years and carefully followed her outstanding work in Waterford. Ms. Simonds’ program has been featured in many of my presentations, as well as in several pieces that I have written for the School Nutrition Association (SNA). These include the 2011 Make Fuel Up To Play 60 Work For Your School Nutrition Program toolkit and mostly recently a June 2012 article for SNA’s Magazine on Putting the Power of Fuel Up to Play 60 to Work for YOU.

Without a doubt, Doreen Simonds is a true school nutrition hero and one of the leading school nutrition directors in Michigan today. Any district would be lucky to have her unique combination of professional dedication, business savvy, and programmatic creativity. As 25+ year nutrition veteran in Waterford, she oversees school meals and other nutrition programs in twenty buildings for an enrollment of nearly 12,000 students – and with exceptional enthusiasm. Here are three of the many reasons that I recommend Doreen for a position in your district.

First, COMMITMENT to children: In Doreen’s world, it really is all about feeding hungry kids. In describing her first venture into USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) this year, she wrote: “We really pulled together the SFSP in a huge rush (we just applied to do it under a month ago). I felt compelled not to wait and did a huge push for it. Every time a mother comes up to me with tears in her eyes and says  “I don’t know what I was going to do this summer to feed my kids…thank you so much for doing this!”  I know the struggle was worth it!!!

Secondly, CREATIVITY in marketing: Everything that Doreen does is infused with creativity. Her talents, abilities, and 30+ years as a wedding photographer all come together in the positive brand she has created with the WSP Depot Cafe, its life-sized mascot Diggin Diesel, and the Tracker Tray Train, designed to help kids understand and enjoy all the components of nutritious, delicious school meals. It’s no wonder that Waterford’s maintains impressive levels of participation – and that Doreen’s district has been recognized with multiple HealthierUS School Challenge awards, as well as an invitation to celebrate with Michelle Obama on the lawn of the White House (Doreen is fourth from left).

Finally, COLLABORATION with others: Every time I talk to Doreen Simonds, I hear much more about the folks she works with than about her. This is a woman who clearly knows how to “play well with others.” She takes advantage of every opportunity to collaborate with other programs, like Michigan Team Nutrition and Fuel Up To Play 60. She is always eager to talk about how her successes are the result of others hard work: “In Mason Elementary, we have a teacher ‘champion’ who goes all the way, so we have 60 to 80 kids at the monthly meetings. We’ve seen a huge increase in breakfast and lunch participation – and their fruit intake is unbelievable! The kids have helped with taste tests, like whole grain waffles, and United Dairy Industries of Michigan provides super support and lots of wonderful materials.”

Seriously and sincerely, Doreen Simonds is a school nutrition hero and you want to have her on your team!   Dayle Hayes, MS, RD


Real Food, Real Challenges, Real Successes in Portland, Oregon, Public Schools

While the food focus may have shifted from the 2012 National Nutrition Month theme of “Get Your Plate In Shape,” to National Garden Month or Soyfoods Month, today the dedicated school nutrition professionals in Portland, Oregon, are doing what they do every month: Tackling the complex job of providing “delicious, high quality, nutrient-rich meals” to thousands of children in an extraordinarily diverse, urban school system. They have the responsibility – and the commitment – to get student trays “in shape for the requirements of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Portland Public Schools Nutrition Services is just one of many districts dedicated to bringing real food to student trays, while working with the also-very-real financial and regulatory challenges of USDA programs. Serving over 11,000 breakfasts, 21,000 lunches, and 2,500 suppers every day makes PPS Nutrition Services one of the largest “restaurant” chains in the city, with gorgeous salad bars and Fresh Fruit and Vegetable snack programs as well. And, they do this all for about $1.20 per meal for food – fresh and locally sourced whenever possible.

For my money, these folks are more than school nutrition professionals. As White House chef Sam Kass has said on numerous occasions, they are school nutrition HEROES. I have had the pleasure of seeing PPS Nutrition Services in action, mostly recently for this delicious lunch at James John Elementary, winner of a 2012 School Wellness Award from the Oregon Department of Education.

So, how does PPS Nutrition Services work nutrition magic for the 47,000+ students in their district? Like the many other outstanding school nutrition programs, they use three over-arching strategies:

1. They get the big picture.

PPS Nutrition Services sets high standards for their program with a mission of “educating palates, inspiring culinary curiosity, and nourishing the health of the community through school meals.” They participate in national initiatives, like School Food Focus, and in local programs, like EcoTrust’s FoodHub, to leverage limited budgets and purchase as much fresh, local, real food as possible.

This meal from Madison High School Food Week showcases Portland Nutrition Services perfectly with features lemon rosemary Draper Valley chicken, kale salad from the Madison school garden, NW apples and pears, nutrient-rich fat-free/low-fat milk, and a delicious yogurt parfait with Oregon strawberries from the Willamette Valley (fresh frozen no sugar added). Pictured left to right are Stacey Sobell of Ecotrust, Annie Kirschner from Partners for Hunger Free Oregon, and Gitta Grether-Sweeney, PPS Nutrition Director.

2.     They sweat the small stuff.

Walk through a school cafeteria with PPS Registered Dietitian Shannon Stember and her eyes take in every detail – entrée presentation, salad bar food safety, and kids eating (or not) the food on their trays. She has helped to make the translation from MyPlate to the new meal patterns make sense for kids using the trays they actually eat on every day.

Like other excellent programs, Portland, Oregon, only needs minimal changes to meet the new USDA meal patterns for schools meals. Looking ahead, they know that the key will be getting real, sometime finicky kids to eat the nutrient-rich options on their trays. Like smart marketers and motivators, they are looking for every opportunity to get nutrient-rich foods onto student trays – and more importantly, into their bodies!!

3.     They make nutrition appealing and easy.

Knowing that it’s only nutrition when they eat or drink it, Portland Public Schools Nutrition Services constantly balances student preferences and nutrition guidelines. They educate children’s palates with new options, like black bean/corn/cilantro salad, while making it easy for kitchen staff to prepare dishes with limited time and equipment. They inspire curiosity through Fresh Fruit and Vegetable snacks in the classroom – and work tirelessly to upgrade the culinary skills of their more than 240 staff members.

Kudos and gratitude to all the enthusiastic school nutrition professionals in Portland – and across the country – who are committed to ensuring that students are well-nourished and ready to learn every day.


It’s Only Nutrition WHEN You Eat It: What is STILL missing from the School Nutrition Standards?

I applaud the recently issued USDA Nutrition Standards and am a huge fan of nudging students toward putting healthier options on their trays (aka behavioral economics). However, there is an incredibly important issue missing from most current conversations about food at school.

The REAL question is: How do we get all these wonderfully nutritious school breakfast and lunch meals into kids? My manta for 2012 is that is it only nutrition when a child eats or drinks it. If school food goes into a trashcan, it is garbage, not nutrition.

Let’s be honest: Most school cafeterias are not conducive to a pleasant dining experience for anyone (which is why few adults want to eat in them). Many barely give kids enough time to eat and drink what’s on their tray now (which will be more of a problem when more fruits and veggies are served under the new meal patterns). I have been in a few school lunchrooms with the feel of a prison – adults patrolling the aisles, prohibitions on talking to your friends, and stoplights when things get “out of hand.”

If, like First Lady Michelle Obama, we want to the new meal patterns to succeed in growing healthier children, we have to create more positive and pleasant mealtimes in schools. If we truly believe that school nutrition programs are critical for a healthier generation, we have to give more time and attention to HOW we feed children in school as well as to WHAT we feed them.

Three tried-and-true tips for more comfortable cafeterias from Montana Team Nutrition

1.     Schedule Recess Before Lunch

Research shows that the best sequence for children is playing, eating, then learning. When kids have Recess Before Lunch (RBL), it improves their nutrition, their behavior in the cafeteria, and their focus when they return to the classroom. From the nutrition side, they eat more entrées and vegetables – and drink more milk. Montana Team Nutrition offers a complete Recess Before Lunch: Guide to Success – a no-cost way to help close children’s nutrient gaps!

2.     Establish Reasonable Eat-tiquette Expectations

Like anything else in school, children can learn to behave well in the cafeteria. They just need to be taught appropriate eat-tiqutte – and then to have positive behavior consistently reinforced by everyone from the principal to lunchroom aides. In Welcome to Our Comfortable Cafeteria, real school staff from a real school in Gallatin Gateway, Montana, show how well this works with real kids. Bottom line: Adults need to have clear expectations, to teach them to everyone, and to reinforce them constantly.

 3.     Provide enough time and enough adult role models.

What was one of the most important things that the First Lady did when announcing the new USDA meal pattersn? She sat down at a table and enjoyed turkey tacos while talking with the students at Parklawn Elementary School. Children need enough time to eat – at least 15 to 20 minutes of seat time after getting their trays – and they will eat better when adults sit and enjoy lunch with them. The free Montana Team Nutrition Welcome to Our Comfortable Cafeteria webinar on February 21, 2012, will outline ways to create a lunchroom where administrators, teachers, aides, parents, and grandparents want to eat with kids.

We have to take a new approach to HOW meals are served in school cafeterias. The “herd-em-in/herd-em-out” mentality is not the path toward healthful eating habits. If our goal is competent eaters who make smart choices for lifetime health, we have to do better. Fortunately, for everyone in schools, Montana Team Nutrition resources provide some wonderful new road maps.

Next Steps in the Evolution of School Meals: Dedication, Innovation, and Collaboration

As you have probably heard, USDA released the long-anticipated new Nutrition Standards for school breakfast and lunch on January 25, 2012. The new regulations align the meals served in school cafeterias more closely with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These new meals patterns do that in several important ways:

  • Requiring more and greater variety of vegetables and fruits, as well as more whole grain-rich breads and cereals
  • Making low-fat and fat-free milk the standard for schools (flavored milk must be fat-free)
  • Establishing minimum and maximum calorie levels for three different ages groups (K-5, 6-8, 9-12)
  • Setting a 10+ year timeline for reducing sodium

While these are the first new school meal patterns in more than a decade, they are not news to school nutrition professionals. Improvements in school meals have been an ongoing process in districts large and small – long before celebrity chefs brought the issue to the headlines. The district where First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack made the announcement last Wednesday is, in fact, an outstanding example of excellence in school nutrition. Under the direction of Penny McConnell, MS, RD, SNS, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) Food and Nutrition Services in northern Virginia, has received numerous awards, including District of Year from the School Nutrition Association in 2010. Serving an astounding 140,000 customers daily, this is probably not the school lunch you remember. FCPS links cafeterias, classrooms, school gardens, and other local food sources to create a 9-5-2-1-0 Zip Code for Health Kids in the “Energy Zone.”

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DEDICATION

A recent USDA blog about the new-trition standards acknowledges the leadership and commitment of school nutrition professionals. I have seen this dedication firsthand from Virginia to my state of Montana. The staff at Gallatin Gateway School (185 students, K-8) just north of Yellowstone Park, have truly dedicated themselves to nutrition excellence. It’s one thing to have nutrition standards and put nutrient-rich food onto trays. However, food is only nutrition WHEN kids eat it. If school meals go into the trash can, they are garbage. But, trust me, thanks to the hard work of everyone from Superintendent Kim DeBruckyer to Chef Jason Moore, very little food is wasted at Gallatin Gateway. The meals are appealing and tasty – and the cafeteria atmosphere encourages children to try to new foods and enjoy eating with their friends. One of many reasons why Gallatin Gateway just won a Gold Award in the HealthierUS School Challenge and why the cafeteria is featured in a Montana Team Nutrition video on pleasant, positive mealtimes.

INNOVATION

Speaking of videos, the Hurst-Euless-Bedford Independent School District (HEB-ISD) outside Dallas, Texas, uses videos to teach students how to get more fruits and veggies with their 7 Rules of the Salad Bar video. The dedicated school nutrition heroes at HEB-ISD Child Nutrition Services, led by director Mary Beth Golangco Ratzloff, MS, RD/LD, are excellent examples of innovation on many levels beyond their use of online video technology. This elementary school lunch showcases the innovation in product and preparation that will be necessary for all districts to implement the new meal patterns. The milk – fat-free and flavored – represents a dairy industry renovation that meets the nutrition standards with a taste profile that kids love to drink. The “Mac-and-Trees” (made with hidden broccoli!) uses low-fat cheese, along with an innovative high-protein, whole-grain pasta. What delicious ways to get nutrition into kids (but please don’t advertise that it is good for them)!!

COLLABORATION

I am in complete agreement with the First Lady, the Agriculture Secretary, and White House Chef Sam Kass – partnerships will be essential for the successful implementation of the new Nutrition Standards for schools. I believe that we must work together – as school nutrition professionals, school food reformers, school food manufacturers, and school food regulators – so that student will eat the meals they need for strong bodies and sharp minds. A wonderful example of the resources available to help all groups involved in schools is USDA new materials: Healthier Middle Schools: Everyone Can Help. The handouts, videos, and posters reach all school groups (principals, teachers, students, parents, and school food service) with the same positive messages.

What Districts Will Need to Implement New Meal Patterns: Lessons from the Wild West

I don’t have crystal ball, so I can’t tell you any details of the new and improved USDA Nutrition Standards for School Meals. We’ll all learn tomorrow morning when the final regulations are released with the star power of the First Lady and Rachel Ray at Parklawn Elementary School in Virginia.

IMHO the true heroes of the morning event will be Penny McConnell, MS, RD, and the staff of Fairfax Country Public School Nutrition Services who will prepare the lunch for hungry kids. Just like they do every day!

I can tell you what it will take to implement the new meal patterns – whatever they may be – in any district, from LA Unified with hundreds of thousands of students to Gallatin Gateway, Montana, with less than 200. Districts will need:

  • A team of school wellness champions to support changes.
  • An in-depth understanding of the business of school foodservice.
  • A commitment to open and continuous innovation.

I saw all three of these strategies hard at work in Gillette, Wyoming, last week. Campbell County is part of the mining/oil/gas “boom” in eastern Wyoming, where the school district serves 8,400 students (free-reduced about 35%) in an area of about 5,000 square miles.

Celebrating Success in Campbell County School District (CCSD)

In terms of healthy schools for healthy students, CCSD already implements best practices throughout the school day – from breakfast in the classroom to 30 minutes of active recess before lunch. While they are well positioned to implement new meal patterns, it will still be a challenge to work within budget, procure needed food products, and – most importantly – get kids to actually consume what is served!

Campbell County CHAMPIONS for Healthy Kids

From left to right, four of the folks who support the district’s long term commitment to wellness – Rachel Wilde (TriFit Coordinator), Mike Miller (champion for wellness in Wyoming for several decades), Judy Barbe (WY Action for Healthy Kids Western Dairy Association), and Bryan Young, Director of Nutrition Services.

The BUSINESS of School Foodservice

While Bryan may look young enough to enjoy a student-priced lunch, he brings the business savvy and experience that school nutrition programs will need to implement the new regulations. He came to the job less than a year ago from managing a very popular local restaurant. He’ll need to use every trick in the book to serve even more fruits and veggies with the new pattern, especially considering that he, like many directors, have only about a dollar to spend on food after paying for labor costs. Want more fresh produce, smoothies, and yogurt parfaits? That means higher labor costs too!

On-going INNOVATION and Creativity

Honestly, school nutrition directors have to be nutrition magicians to put these delicious and healthful items on a tray using the budgets they have. And, getting on the food is just the first step – then you have to get the food into the students!!

Here is the thing: It’s only nutrition when kids eat it. If food goes into a trashcan, it’s garbage not nutrition. Getting kids to enjoy the healthful meals served in school cafeterias is another magic trick – one that takes marketing creativity, product innovation (like whole wheat buns that kids like!), and presentation, presentation, presentation (love the kiwi on the yogurt parfaits).

KUDOS to Campbell County, Wyoming … and THANKS for a delicious lunch!

Being a BFF of Child Nutrition

Receiving the Friend of Child Nutrition Silver FAME Award from SNA is one of the greatest honors of my professional career. As is the case with any honor, I believe that this one comes with serious responsibility.

Ever since I found out about this FAME award last fall, I‘ve been thinking about how to be the best possible friend of Child Nutrition Programs moving into 2012 . It’s sure to be an intense year – with the new USDA meal patterns, more rule proposals in the pipeline, and continued scrutiny from all sides of the childhood health debate.

To be perfectly honest, I toyed with the idea of giving up my work in child nutrition to reinvent myself as a yoga teacher or dog whisperer. By the end of 2011, I was really worn down by the pizza-as-vegetable food fight, the ongoing debate over flavored milk, and the whole war on childhood obesity.

So, I have taken a few weeks to thoughtfully consider the issues, as well as my own beliefs and actions. I asked myself tough questions about my work with the food industry, my laser focus on the positives in school meals, and – frankly – my own deaf ear to some foods reformers. Although I didn’t always like the answers that I found, I did find my own, independent way through this very divisive – and very important – issue.

First, while I firmly believe that reasonable people can disagree, IMHO the current battle mentality and war analogies are not in the best interest of our children’s future.  I believe that our children deserve our best efforts to work together – as school nutrition professionals, school food reformers, school food manufacturers, and school food regulators. Only by reaching across the divides among us can we find solutions for School Meals That Rock – in all districts across the US – given the realistic limitations on resources of money, time, and space.

So, here is my simple manifesto for 2012 – to be the BFF for Child Nutrition that I can. I promise to:

Consider all the evidence.

  • I promise to look carefully at the science as well as the passion for change. I will share my own views and potential conflicts of interest as honestly as possible.
  • While vigorously supporting outstanding programs, I will also document ways to implement changes in those districts where school meals definitely don’t rock.

Search for common ground.

  • Both the letter and spirit of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act and new USDA regulations for meal patterns and competitive foods are critical for kids.
  • Given the realities of federal, state, and local budgets, it is going to take creative collaboration to implement changes in school food programs.

Celebrate every success.

  • School Meals That Rock started as a way to showcase the amazing everyday things that school nutrition heroes are already doing – that will continue.
  • With additional School Meals That Rock formats like this blog and Twitter, I will be able to share more in-depth information with more diverse audiences.

So, thanks for your likes and follows, but most of all, thanks for everything you do for kids. The most important reason for expanding School Meals That Rock is to offer even more ways for you to share the wonderful things that are happening in your school.