School Kitchen and Cafeteria Managers Awarded for Performance

The dedication and ingenuity of school nutrition managers has been on full display this past year as they balanced challenging schedules, ever-changing COVID-19 regulations, staff shortages and food order limitations while keeping cafeteria operations running smoothly. In recognition of their outstanding hard work and dedication, the national, non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) has awarded the 2021 Regional Managers of the Year.

The award is considered the highest honor a school nutrition manager can earn. This year’s recipients will be recognized together with their colleagues across the country on School Lunch Hero Day, May 7, 2021:

Tina Callahan, kitchen manager at Edison Elementary School in School City of Hammond, IN, the Mideast regional Manager of the Year.

Tina Callahan, the Mideast regional Manager of the Year, handing out grab and go meals to students.

Callahan would not let COVID-19 get in the way of making National School Breakfast Week memorable for students and staff in 2020. She transformed the serving line into a spaceship, purchasing an inflatable robot to greet students. When schools closed and the school nutrition team switched to curbside service, Callahan was always there to smile and wave. She went above and beyond to make the parents and students picking up meals feel happy – even wearing a unicorn costume to bring smiles. With the high quality of meals and friendly atmosphere, some families drove from 20 minutes away to participate in her school’s curbside meal service.

Including regional flavors on menus is very important to Callahan, who during the summer months started serving student favorites like “elotes” (corn in a cup) and egg pops, as well as smoothies and ice cream churned by students pedaling a bicycle. She also created milk carton gardens with students so they could grow produce at home. With the activities and other creative ideas Callahan served up, summer meal participation numbers were higher than in many surrounding districts.

Her staff describes Callahan as respectful, while also being energetic and fun. She believes in leading by example and works with each staff member to make sure they are trained in cashiering and customer service and how to use all kitchen equipment, read recipes, and set up serving lines. An extremely low staff turnover rate in staff is an indicator of her dedication, patience and enthusiasm for training. Over her 20+ years in foodservice, she has trained more than 100 staff members. During the pandemic, Callahan has had multiple staff members formally request to remain in her kitchen because of the positive atmosphere she creates.

Callahan believes it’s important to publicize the school’s meal program and participates in local PTA Chapters, introduces herself to parents at family game nights and even addresses concerns through her personal Facebook page. When the school started curbside service for the pandemic, she used social media to connect with families and keep them up to date on school meal service changes.

Allison Grabow, child nutrition manager at Will-Moore Elementary in Bismarck Public Schools, ND, the Midwest regional Manager of the Year.

Allison Grabow, the Midwest regional Manager of the Year, showing students how easy it is to pick a meal from her hallway cart.

Grabow is known for making the cafeteria a fun and friendly place and for building a rapport with students and staff throughout the year. Students look forward to the joke of the day she posts related to an entrée on the menu or a current event. She hangs posters with positive messaging, which creates a welcoming and safe environment for staff. One of the motivational posters she placed in her cafeteria has been so inspiring it prompted the district to implement positive message posters across the 21 other school kitchens in her district.

When Grabow’s husband grew a 600-pound pumpkin in their backyard, they brought it to school to educate students about pumpkins’ nutritional value, how they grow and the variety of foods they can be used in. Students were so excited to see a pumpkin that large and enthusiastic to learn more.

Grabow loves to help train and mentor other managers in the district, taking them around her school to introduce them to new ideas, such as Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC). She was instrumental in the successful implementation of Will-Moore Elementary’s BIC initiative, participating in planning meetings with the principal and teachers and training staff on their roles in providing students healthy school breakfasts. With her leadership, breakfast participation increased from 18 percent to 80 percent. Grabow has also become known for her training in food safety, sanitation, meal patterns and the importance of positive customer service.

Grabow came from the restaurant world four years ago and has been a rising star in the school nutrition department. When she started, she knew there was work to be done to build trust between staff and faculty. She began by visiting with teachers, establishing connections with custodial staff and communicating with secretaries if there were last-minute changes to the menu. The school now works as a team when it comes to serving breakfast and lunch, each department doing their part to have everything flow seamlessly.

Starr Grimes, kitchen manager at Navarre High School in Santa Rosa County School District, FL, the Southwest regional Manager of the Year.

Starr Grimes, the Southwest regional Manager of the Year, is all smiles as she prepares an assembly line of wraps for students.

Grimes enjoys mentoring other managers on the day-to-day activities of school nutrition management and encourages her staff to become ServSafe certified so they are up to date on food safety procedures and understand the importance of cooking and handling food properly.

Despite many challenges during the pandemic, customer service has remained Grimes’ top priority and the quality of her program’s meals has not suffered even while short-staffed. The school has also seen an increase in breakfast participation, due largely to Grimes’ implementation of a breakfast cart program outside the school.

Serving as the local chapter president for 2019-2021, Grimes continues to share the benefits of SNA and all it has to offer members. She has attended the Legislative Action Conference several times, won the Leadership Award and Presidents Award and holds local association meetings at both ends of the county so everyone has a chance to attend. Grimes is always looking for a way to get more employees involved, inviting new employees to conferences for continued educational opportunities and networking with other school nutrition professionals.

Grimes also encourages student participation in nutrition and food services events. She hosts a future chef event for students to showcase their cooking skills and offers contests where winners’ recipes are served as the main entree in the cafeteria. Beyond her involvement at school, Grimes has volunteered to support emergency feeding programs during the pandemic and is very involved in her local church.

Kamie Boren, child nutrition manager at Silver Ridge Elementary in Weber School District, UT, the West regional Manager of the Year.

Kamie Boren, the West regional Manager of the Year, scoops eggs into grab and go cups for Breakfast in the Classroom.

Boren has been dedicated to feeding students for more than a decade. She has served curbside meals in frigid Utah weather as well as captured great school meal moments, creating a video of staff and students. She has created a warm, fun and inviting cafeteria by trying to remember the names of as many of her 500 students as possible. She and her staff decorate for all the holidays; stretching a limited budget to turn the cafeteria into a special place for the children they feed every school day.

Boren is known for sampling new products and menu options to collect feedback from students and improve her school’s menu. She organizes a special day each year where hundreds of grandparents come to eat lunch with their grandchildren. Boren’s school has a Special Education Wing, which requires special meal accommodations, extra meal prep and handling of food allergies. She uses the utmost care when working with students with special needs and teaches her staff to do the same.

Staff looks forward to working with Boren because of her patience and training skills. She earned her Level 4 SNA Certificate early in her managerial career and has encouraged staff to expand their professional skills as well. Boren provides various opportunities for staff to continue training on topics including time and temperatures, food allergens, safe food handling, chemical mixing, food contact services and cross contamination. Her health inspections are lauded and her annual reviews are always exemplary. Her empathetic and genuine leadership style promotes teamwork amongst her staff.

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 7. Students, faculty and parents across the country will show their appreciation with thanks, cards and recognition for their cafeteria staff. Visit www.SchoolLunchHeroDay.com for more information.

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