Nutrition Pros Earn Their Capes on School Lunch Hero Day

Cafeteria employees are the heart and soul of lunch-time experiences for students of every age, but they don’t often get recognized for their efforts. It’s that time of year again – School Lunch Hero Day celebrates those deserving lunch ladies and gentlemen! The national, non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) received hundreds of nominations of stellar school nutrition professionals and awarded six Regional Employees of the Year. The award was created to recognize outstanding school nutrition employees who influence the quality of school meals through customer service. Meet the 2018 winners:

Christiane Deatsch, from Paola High School in Paola Unified School District – KansasChristiane Deatsch

As the head of the vegetable department in her school, Christiane Deatsch was instrumental in the creation of the Garden Bar, a design-your-own salad bar where students can choose from a variety of fresh vegetables, kidney beans, beets, peas and fresh and canned fruit. Christiane’s humor and jokes have created a happy and comfortable environment for students and helped make the kitchen a pleasant place for her colleagues, according to school administrators. For Halloween, Christiane combined her creativity and good-time attitude to convince all servers and cashiers to dress up as fairies. To the delight of students, she made special aprons and flowered headpieces for staff to wear. A true team player, Christiane volunteers to work special events, including Paola High School’s Drama Department Dinner Theater. Always willing to lend a helping hand, she also makes her famous homemade cinnamon rolls to help raise funds for local bake sales.

Beverley Jenkins from Henry E. Lackey High School in Charles County Public Schools – MarylandBeverleyJenkins

In almost 20 years of watching students grow from children to young adults, Beverley Jenkins has treated student health as a top priority. Understanding the importance of being well fed in school, Beverley was an integral part of her school’s second chance breakfast program success. She uses this opportunity to encourage students to eat a well-balanced meal and to wish them a pleasant day. A strong believer in the benefits of school pride, Beverley dresses up for spirit days, games and events, even creating matching outfits for the school’s stuffed mascots in the cafeteria. She is always a willing participant in jersey day, crazy hat day, crazy hair day, encouraging her coworkers to play along – and always with a hairnet. But her creativity doesn’t end there. Her colorful fruit creations take center stage with the new Fresh Fruit Friday program, enticing students to take more fruit with their meal.

Valerie Kincade from Lee’s Summit High School in Lee’s Summit School District R-7 – Missouri

Valerie Kincade tries to know as many of her students by name, but with over 1,700, knowing all of them would be an unbelievable accomplishment. She loves to see the students she knew from her days cooking in the elementary school, getting reacquainted with them as teenagers, as well as getting to know new students. She is always talking to students, listening to critiques and positive comments, and she takes pride in offering healthy choices that she knows they will enjoy – including meat-free or gluten-free options. She works closely with students, adamantly reading labels and experiments with recipes to recreate healthy versions of popular restaurant menu items. Seeing students’ boredom with chicken nuggets, Valerie and her teammates recreated a buffalo chicken tender that is popular at local restaurants. After trial and error, the team developed a recipe that tastes awesome, is easy to prepare and the students love. She never stops working to improve her skills. Last year, she attended the Missouri Culinary Skills Institute and was excited about the knife skills she learned. She brought back ideas about cooking with herbs and salt free seasoning, helping to bring more flavor to the foods she serves.

Patty Maloy from Cherry Creek Elementary in Nebo School District – UtahPatty Maloy-2

Patty Maloy has become “The Face” of Child Nutrition within the walls of Cherry Creek, according to Principal Mike Duncan. He describes her as “one of the best all-around people he has ever met” with “a heart of gold.” She greets each student with a smile and special greeting and makes them feel comfortable when they walk into the cafeteria with a weekly wall of positive quotes and carefully decorated cafeteria windows. During National School Lunch Week and National School Breakfast Week her creativity really shines. Students love the art contests, educational games and other activities she creates throughout the week. Patty was instrumental in helping Cherry Creek become one of the first schools to offer a food sharing station, helping to reduce food waste. Since elementary children can be hesitant to try new foods, especially vegetables, she created an area where she posts pictures and facts about fruits and vegetables offered at lunch. Her positive influence reaches throughout the district. She freely shares ideas with fellow lunch clerks, taking the initiative to help them implement some of her ideas in their kitchens. Patty is always sharing emails with positive feedback from students or funny pictures from the day.

Marlene Toothaker from Boise School District – IdahoMarlene Toothaker.jpg

For 24 years, Marlene Toothaker has been dedicated to providing students with high quality, nutritious school meals. She currently works at Horizon Elementary and Morley Nelson Elementary schools and has implemented a unique marketing campaign for the schools’ Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. Creating high quality laminated tags for the baskets of produce that go to classrooms at snack time, Marlene has provided information and fun facts to help students learn more about their fresh fruits and vegetables. Marlene works tirelessly to create a positive environment for her students and her coworkers. She has created signs to help lunch time go more smoothly. Nothing goes unnoticed, including her coworkers’ birthdays, which she always manages to remember. Staff members say Marlene greets students every day with one of the biggest smiles. Early in her career, she won the “Red Apron Award,” in part due to creating impressive and highly informative cafeteria bulletin boards along with menu boards and dressing up to celebrate holidays.

Roberta Waldrip from Heath Brook Elementary in Tewksbury Public Schools – Massachusettsunnamed-5

There is no shortage of praise for Roberta Waldrip – from students, their parents or from faculty. She is known for her empathy and compassion, qualities that make her an exemplary food service professional in an elementary school setting. To help alleviate young students’ anxiety, she often takes the time to walk them through the lunch line with patience and helps them feel comfortable. Roberta is always looking to create new recipes for her students using ingredients already in her school’s kitchen. She worked closely with administrators and teachers to help offer 10-minute informational sessions in classrooms, talking about nutrition and the unique happenings in the cafeteria. She takes pride in her fruit and vegetables presentations, even convincing her fellow food service employees to dress as a fruit or vegetable to surprise students. Roberta volunteers many hours to make signs, posters, shirts or décor to help promote a theme, program or event. She has sewn many projects for the school building and staff, including prizes for the bi-weekly school assembly. Her fellow staff members not only appreciate Roberta for her vast food service knowledge, but also for her infamous special treats.

Regional Employees of the Year also show a strong interest in young people, cooperation, work attendance, creativity, participation in professional development and their willingness to go the extra mile. The following employees were awarded the top spot for their regions.

In July, all 21 Regional Award winners, including the top three National Award winners, will be honored during the Awards Ceremony at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference in Las Vegas, NV.

SNA has teamed up with Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author and illustrator of the popular LUNCH LADY graphic novel series, and Random House Children’s Books to celebrate all of America’s school nutrition professionals through School Lunch Hero Day, on Friday, May 4. Students, faculty and parents across the country will show their appreciation with thanks, cards and recognition for their cafeteria staff. Visit for more information.

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