#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.