School Nutrition Managers Honored With Regional Awards

Overseeing everything from staff training and food presentation to equipment maintenance, managers of school kitchens and cafeterias are masters at multitasking. From the moment students walk into their lunchrooms, they are prepared to create a positive and healthy school meal experience. In recognition of their outstanding hard work and dedication, the national, non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) has awarded the 2019 Regional Managers of the Year, considered the highest honor a school nutrition manager can earn. The award recognizes a cafeteria manager who has demonstrated dedication and ingenuity to improve his or her school meal program.

SNA is recognizing the cream of the crop – the most enthusiastic, knowledgeable and creative leaders in their field.

Jennifer Berglund, Cafeteria Manager from Highland Junior High School – Utah

Jennifer Berglund

Jennifer Berglund is the friendly face of the cafeteria staff, interacting with students during meal service and creating a positive environment. She gets to know students by name and familiarize with their likes, dislikes and personalities to create a fun and comfortable atmosphere. Berglund has worked with the district supervisor to install colorful displays, attractive serving line signage and main line menu boards in her cafeteria. She works side-by-side her staff in preparing food for students and leads by example, establishing relationships with students, teachers, administrators and the maintenance workers. She is known for her positive attitude and her kitchen staff respects her greatly.

In January 2018, Berglund implemented a pilot Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC) program, working with her principal and teachers and making sure kitchen staff were trained on logistics. Berglund created promotional materials to remind students to participate in BIC and answered teachers’ questions about meal components. According to teachers, they have seen a reduction in student tardiness since BIC was established. Due to the program’s success, BIC is now being implemented in the district’s other secondary schools. During the summer, Berglund’s kitchen is often used as the central preparation kitchen for the district’s Summer Feeding Program, producing up to 1,000 meals per day.

Jessica Pena, Head Cook/Kitchen Manager from Island Lake Elementary School – Minnesota

Jessica Pena

Colleagues have described Pena as a dedicated team player who inspires loyalty and has a highly disciplined work ethic. She arrives to school two hours before anyone else to single-handedly prepare and serve breakfast to 100 elementary students, even acting as cashier. Interested in keeping the cafeteria atmosphere light and cheerful, Pena organizes decorations and staff attire for special dress-up days such as Pajama Day and Halloween. She promotes camaraderie and reaches beyond the cafeteria, sending special birthday cards to teachers and administrators and serving as liaison between school staff, administration and the kitchen staff. Pena interacts with students outside of the cafeteria, reading The Lunch Lady book series in classrooms or answering questions about the lunchroom and nutrition. She occasionally invites a “Mystery Guest Server” to get students more excited about mealtime and recently worked with Student Council to serve a healthy meal at their event. As North Ramsey Chapter 8 President, Pena organizes training sessions that range from kitchen ergonomics to “lunch lady self-defense” and has planned Farm to Table field trips. She coordinates meetings with roughly 100 attendees, acting as emcee, checking members in and raffling off small prizes.

Julie Kirby, Nutrition Services Manager from Blades Elementary School – Delaware

Julie Kirby

Described by colleagues as fair and professional, Julie Kirby puts in the extra effort to keep things running smoothly for her staff. She’s known to step in to fill an open position in her kitchen or stay late while maintaining her duties as manager. She creates a warm and welcoming feel in the cafeteria for all students and staff. She decorates with a vast selection of holiday and special occasion decorations – something students have come to look forward to. From traditional holidays to the celebration of Walt Disney and Dr. Seuss’s birthdays, there’s always something to brighten the students, teachers and visitors’ day as they visit the lunch line. Creating a healthy and safe environment for her school’s students is top priority for Kirby. An advocate for educating students and parents, Kirby has created informational hand-outs for parents during Kindergarten registration detailing Blades Elementary’s School Nutrition Program. Kindergarteners are also invited to tour the cafeteria to practice walking through lunch lines and “paying” for school meals on the manual keypad. Each year, Kirby coordinates the menu, decorations and costumes for a themed outdoor barbecue held for students and staff. She is committed to ensuring children have access to nutrition education and healthy meals at all times. On school field trips, she promotes “lunch on the go” options or will ride to local field trip locations to serve lunches from the district’s food truck. She promotes the summer nutrition program with flyers, by word of mouth at events and even with spotlights on local radio and TV shows. Kirby is constantly spreading her love of school nutrition within her community.

Regina Coleman, Child Nutrition Manager from Larchmont Elementary School – Washington

Regina Coleman

One of Regina Coleman’s primary duties as child nutrition manager is to create a welcoming environment for her students, greeting each one with a smile and calling them by name. Her patience and passion for her students make her a role model in Larchmont Elementary. Working with a group of special education students in her kitchen part-time, Coleman teaches how to work safely and efficiently and build practical skills so that they will be able to maintain a job after school. She encourages parents and students to get involved with school nutrition and she manages her school’s social media platforms to stay in contact with parents and answer questions. Through YouTube videos, she recruits new employees, educates parents on food related concerns and enhances the community within and outside of the school district. As a professional who appreciates continued education, Coleman encourages staff members to take advantage of available nutrition and skills classes. For the past 10 years, she has helped secure stipends needed to pay for these classes for staff.

Sandra Hillson, Cafeteria Manager from Lincoln School – Massachusetts

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Sandra Hillson

A seasoned cafeteria manager, Sandra Hillson takes great pride in her staff’s ability to prepare healthy and appetizing school meals from scratch. Working in a small one-oven kitchen, Hillson excels in time management and menu preparation and is known for collaborating with staff to develop new recipes and present healthy food options in a way that students will be encouraged to try. She utilizes foods grown seasonally in school gardens and locally sourced produce from area farms as part of Lincoln School District’s Farm to School program. Hillson was instrumental in organizing a recent collaboration with local apple and peach growers. Hillson is well versed in catering to specific dietary restrictions, even working with students who might have aversions to certain appearances or food textures. She and her staff have developed special menus to accommodate students with allergies, cultural dietary restrictions and more to ensure all students feel welcome in her cafeteria. School nutrition professional development and education is important to Hillson, who is Serve Safe certified, CPR certified and Allergen Aware certified. She ensures that all staff complete the district’s annual mandated training and steps in during training days so that her staff can attend Epi-Pen, Heimlich maneuver, fire safety and school lockdown training.

The Manager of the Year Award is given in honor of Louise Sublette, a leader in school nutrition in her state and in the national School Nutrition Association. During her 43 years in the profession, she worked in many areas of foodservice—public schools, colleges, hospitals and elderly feeding programs. Louise dedicated her career to honoring school nutrition professionals and ensuring those who work in school cafeterias have access to professional development opportunities, empowering them to help their school meal programs flourish. In honor of Louise, the award reflects the numerous accomplishments of regional cafeteria and food service managers, who help to improve the health and well being of district students and staff.

In July, all 19 Regional Award winners, including the top three National Award winners, will be honored during a Red Carpet Awards Ceremony at the School Nutrition Association’s 73rd Annual National Conference in St. Louis, MO.

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 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.

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