School Lunch Hero Day Honors National Nutrition Award Winners

Every day heroes fight hunger from the cafeteria every school day. School Lunch Heroes are unassuming culinary ninjas, planning their school lunch menus, creating funny and festive bulletin boards in the cafeteria and serving a hot meal with a warm smile. Effort, dedication and compassion are the secret ingredients to their success, and a lot goes into making the school meal experience fun and nutritious for their students.

Recognizing this year’s best of the best who stood out in the school foodservice profession, the School Nutrition Association (SNA) has announced national winners for Director, Manager and Employee of the Year. These awards showcase the amazing work of school nutrition professionals in time to celebrate School Lunch Hero Day! The non-profit organization has teamed up again with Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author and illustrator of the popular LUNCH LADY graphic novel series, to celebrate all of America’s school nutrition professionals through School Lunch Hero Day, which will take place on Friday, May 3.

Thousands of school nutrition professionals across the country were nominated by their peers. From the nominations, state winners and then regional winners were selected anonymously, leading the way to the 2019 national winners! SNA recognizes Becky Domokos-Bays, PhD, RD, SNS of Virginia as the Director of the Year, Robin Dake of Tennessee as Manager of the Year and Mary LaMarche of Maryland as Employee of the Year. These three national winners are recognized as heroes in their districts, with pride for their program and dedication to their students’ health, they are committed to the success of their school meal programs.

Becky Domokos-Bays, PhD, RD, SNS, Director of School Nutrition Services for Loudoun County Public Schools – Virginia

National Director of the Year, Becky Domokos-Bays, PhD, RD, SNS

During her 25-year tenure in school nutrition, Becky Domokos-Bays has helped expand nutrition programs for her districts and promote the need for healthy meals for today’s students. She has implemented a variety of programs, including supper, after school snacks, summer feeding and fresh fruit and vegetable, and created alternative breakfast options such as Breakfast in the Classroom and Breakfast After the Bell. Serving as director at LCPS for the past five years, Domokos-Bays started a successful summer meal program that served over 49,000 students during the summer of 2018 alone. Her hire of a marketing coordinator has greatly strengthened the communication link between the school nutrition department and parents. Under her leadership, school meal participation has steadily increased each year and the program has maintained a healthy fund balance without a meal price increase in the past four years.

Domokos-Bays has incorporated more locally sourced foods on the menu, upgraded school nutrition technology in all 92 schools, provided shoes and chef coats to 385 staff members and is now working to improve the dining experience in middle schools. One of her greatest accomplishments at LCPS, the Farm to School (F2S) program, has grown to roughly 52 active school gardens. She helped foster a strong relationship between the school nutrition services program and teachers in order to offer project-based lessons with gardens. LCPS is a Farm to School national partner. Close to 100 teachers have been trained by SNS staff to include F2S activities into their curriculum. Subjects include business math, developing recipes, kitchen tours, environmental sustainability and protein sourcing. The district will serve as an example, hosting a regional F2S summit this spring. Together with the Department of Health, Extension and the Rural Economic Development Commission, the department secured funding to install 100 vertical garden towers, expand school gardens, add smoothie bikes as part of nutrition education and create Farmer Trading Cards to highlight local farmers and the work they do. With student health and satisfaction in mind, Domokos-Bays implemented taste-tests throughout the year so that students can evaluate potential new menu options. She was the first in the United States to establish an SNA District Owned Membership (DOM) for her 108 managers and staff members. She has presented at several state and national conferences, always providing an exemplary example in school nutrition and food service. The 2016-17 SNA president, Domokos-Bays has also been a member of the Governing Council; Nutrition Committee chairperson; vice president, president elect and participates in industry boot camps.

Robin Dake, Cafeteria Manager from McMinn County High School – Tennessee

National Manager of the Year, Robin Dake

As the manager of the district’s largest high school cafeteria, Robin Dake keeps involved with the ever-changing needs of her students. Dake surveyed students to improve satisfaction, resulting in an updated salad bar, new monthly pizza offering, and additional student-requested menu items like a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, biscuits for breakfast, healthy a la carte drink offerings and macaroni and cheese. By listening to her students and being well-versed on school meal guidelines, Dake has increased school meal participation as well as increased menu offerings. She incorporated an after-school snack program this past fall, which now serves over 1,000 snacks every month to high school students who play sports or belong to school clubs. She increased breakfast participation by 13 percent by adding another breakfast serving location at another end of the school. Dake led a committee of students and staff to work with a consultant developing a renovation plan for the cafeteria. The project resulted in increased seating and a college café atmosphere with a modern look and created a better flow through a previously congested serving line. She’s shown talent at making training sessions fun while emphasizing the importance of school nutrition guidelines. She has been called a pioneer for her district, attending the Tennessee School Nutrition Association (TSNA) Culinary Academy in order to learn new skills to bring back to staff. Inspired through her example, more than 60 percent of the district managers now attend the TSNA Culinary Academy and Dake has since presented in-service training for over 140 staff members.

Mary LaMarche, Satellite Kitchen Assistant at Bel Air Elementary School – Maryland

National Employee of the Year, Mary LaMarche

Known for her creativity and customer service skills, Mary LaMarche is popular among students and staff alike. She helps host the annual Valentine’s Sweetheart Breakfast, where she is busy in the kitchen, preparing meals and promoting the importance of the school breakfast program. Always thinking of ways to promote the school meal program at Bel Air Elementary, LaMarche created a dedicated Instagram account, posting photos of fresh fruits and vegetables, promotional events, entrée meals and other features. LaMarche also organized and hosted a free food show during back to school night, where parents, students and siblings were invited into the cafeteria to sample fresh fruits and vegetables, popular hot entrée items and favorite sandwiches. While visiting the cafeteria, parents were able to watch a video about the program, pick up program literature and were asked to “follow” their Instagram account. To gather student feedback, she offers a comment box, publishes daily menus on her theme bulletin board and encourages sampling of new menu options. An integral part of the planning and execution of annual meetings and events, LaMarche spearheads many of her local SNA events. She organizes the annual toy drive, coordinates the department to march in the town Christmas parade and has handed out treats at the local Trunk or Treat in the past. LaMarche also works with the district’s Future Links program for high-functioning special needs adult students, teaching them career skills and making them feel connected to the school community.

On School Lunch Hero Day, May 3, students, faculty and parents across the country will show their appreciation with thanks, cards and recognition for their cafeteria staff. Visit for more information.

SNA is also announcing 19 regional award winners this week. National, regional and state level award winners will all be honored in July during the Red Carpet Awards Ceremony at the School Nutrition Association’s 73rd Annual National Conference in St. Louis, MO.

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