In Challenging Year, School Meal Program Directors Shine Bright

Celebrating excellence in leadership and commitment to oversee thriving school meal programs, the national non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) has awarded 2021 Regional Directors of the Year. These dedicated individuals led expansive efforts to manage emergency feeding programs during COVID-19 and transition meal service between remote, hybrid and in-person learning models to ensure students’ access to healthy meals.

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School Nutrition Employees Recognized for Their Efforts

Whether handing out lunches in the rain or driving to student homes to drop off a week’s worth of school meals, school nutrition employees have truly gone above and beyond their typical duties this past year to ensure children are nourished and ready to learn. The national, non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) received hundreds of nominations of stellar cafeteria professionals and awarded five Regional Employees of the Year. The award was created to recognize outstanding school nutrition employees who positively influence the quality of school meals through exemplary customer service. Meet the 2021 winners, who will be celebrated together with colleagues across the country as part of School Lunch Hero Day on May 7, 2021:

Marcia Rosa, kitchen assistant at Elkton High School in Cecil County Public Schools, MD, the Mideast regional Employee of the Year.

Marcia Rosa, the Mideast regional Employee of the Year, packing school buses full of school meals that will then be distributed around town.

Even if other lines are shorter, students will wait in line to see Rosa – a testament to the kindness and care she shows them. Out of three cafeteria lines, she usually serves about half of the day’s lunches and more than three-quarters of a la carte sales. She helped implement more grab-and-go options and loves to try new products in her line. When the school added a smoothie machine, Rosa walked around the cafeteria handing out free samples of the different flavors to entice more participants and future sales.

During the pandemic, she immediately stepped up to ensure children in the community had access to healthy school meals. She worked to package meals for families to pick up, personally deliver meals to homes and even ride the bus to deliver to food insecure neighborhoods.

Her supervisors describe her as irreplaceable and a definite leader in her school. She creates a positive environment for co-workers, always willing to lend a helping hand and patiently training new hires. Rosa goes out of her way to promote the meal program to school staff, letting them know about new entrees, reminding them when their favorite lunch is on the menu and answering questions.

Rosa joined SNA to increase her level of professionalism and continue her education and training. She enjoys networking with fellow school nutrition professionals and learning from others in the field.

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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.

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National Award Winners Celebrated for School Lunch Hero Day

There’s no stopping the non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) from celebrating its Director, Manager and Employee of the Year national award winners! During the first-ever virtual event, “Our Heroes: Celebrating the 2021 SNA Award Winners” on May 5, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author/illustrator of the LUNCH LADY graphic novel series, joined SNA President Reggie Ross, SNS, in revealing the national award winners and celebrating all school lunch heroes.

These annual awards recognize the dedication and outstanding commitment of school nutrition professionals from around the country who have gone above and beyond the call of duty for their students and school meal programs. Countless school nutrition professionals stepped up and worked their magic to ensure children had access to healthy meals during COVID-19 school closures and transitions between remote and in-person learning. Three national award winners and 13 regional award winners will be celebrated in conjunction with an appreciation campaign for those widespread efforts on School Lunch Hero Day (SLHD) on Friday, May 7.

From the nominations received, state winners were selected and then regional winners were determined through blind review process. Of the 13 regional winners this spring, the three national winners were chosen for their exemplary service during this challenging time of atypical school meal program operations.

SNA recognizes Anna Apoian of California as the Director of the Year, Amber Ott-Underdown of Pennsylvania as Manager of the Year and Christine Edelstein-Dodds of Massachusetts as Employee of the Year. These three national winners are recognized as heroes in their districts, with pride in their profession and dedication to their students’ health and to the success of their school meal programs.

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Greenhouse, Scratch Cooking & Salad Bar: Recipe for School Meal Success

Through the determination and hard work of the small nutrition department at Platte County School District #2 in Wyoming, grants secured in the past two school years have boosted the meal program with an infusion of fresh food. According to Food Services Director Dawndrea Daly, grants enabled the district to construct a geodome greenhouse on school grounds, pay for a salad bar and increase the number of scratch-made menu options for their school meal program.

The district of about 250 students is small but mighty. Daly proved that this summer, as the sole full-time food service staffer to provide Summer Meals to students through August. During the school year, the department has 3 staff members. The district has an open campus policy for older students, but because of the increase in fresh produce and scratch cooking, Daly said that student meal participation has continued to increase.

Food Services Director Dawndrea Daly was the sole full-time food service staffer to provide Summer Meals to students through August.

“It is our hope that by implementing these programs, we are making a good impact on our students’ lives, beyond feeding them healthy and nutritious food,” said Daly. “We are thrilled that they are enjoying the scratch meals we put so much time and thought into creating.”

Scratch cooking had been a large part of the small district’s food service history, however, over the years the use of prepared foods increased. When Daly became director, scratch cooking made a big return. Menu options including pizza, soups, lasagna, rolls, cinnamon rolls, breakfast burritos and more started to be made in-house. As Daly explained it, participation has also increased because students “eat with their eyes first,” and homemade foods has enticed them to eat school breakfast and lunch more often.

With hopes that the newly installed salad bar could remain available to students, Daly has worked with staff to provide a safe method where students are served by a staff member to take extra precautions during the pandemic.

Unfortunately, due to the impact of COVID-19 on school learning methods, the school has not been able to utilize its geodome greenhouse in 2020-21. However, when it was installed last year, Daly said students learned how to plant, grow and harvest fresh produce, which was featured in school meals and as part of the new salad bar. In addition to providing local student-grown produce for meals, a Junior Master Gardener Program was implemented allowing teachers to incorporate the greenhouse as part of their science and math lesson plans as well.

Prior to the pandemic, the department also held an on-campus baking program for students with chefs from King Arthur Flour. Students were also given all of the ingredients and instructions to bake fresh bread at home with their families, further emphasizing the benefits of scratch cooking for healthy, growing children.

Thankful for Students, Schools Provide Holiday Lunch Celebrations

Ask anyone about their favorite school meal as a child and the Thanksgiving turkey lunch usually comes to mind. The love of the turkey day meal remains, but much has changed about what it looks like today. Schools have created new recipes and ways to incorporate turkey in their meals, with a variety of trays, bowls, dishes or curbside pickup containers needed to deliver holiday traditions. Through soups, pot pies, sandwiches, whether carved, sliced, roasted, cubed or diced, turkey is still the star of the show.

Thanksgiving school meal sides include everything from whole grain rolls, mashed potatoes, sweet potato mash, roasted potatoes, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce, salad, sweat peas and yams, to seasoned corn, macaroni and cheese, collard greens, broccoli and fresh fruit.

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Farm to School Comes to Life at Dover-Eyota Schools

While many schools have adopted a Farm to School program, Dover-Eyota Public Schools (MN) has gone above and beyond to offer their students fresh, locally-sourced school meals. Using apples from their own school orchard to make homemade applesauce and sourcing beef from a local farm to offer freshly-made hot dogs and hamburgers are examples of how they celebrated Farm to School Month, which wrapped up last week.

A Dover-Eyota PS school lunch: buns are from St. Charles Bakery in St. Charles; the hamburger is from Goldenrust Farm in Eyota, whose children attend Dover-Eyota schools; the tomatoes are from Blattner Farm (Produce Plus), whose children went to Dover-Eyota as well; the lettuce is from Revol Greens in Owatonna – making this entrée 100 percent local! 
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Curbside Lunch Pick-up Doesn’t Stop National School Lunch Week Celebrations

National School Lunch Week (NSLW) looks pretty different this year for Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Public Schools (NC) as K-5 students won’t be starting in-school classes until October 19. The district has been running a curbside meal pick-up operation to coincide with distance learning, but they haven’t given up serving nutritious and delicious meals for their students! ECPPS is offering prepared meals that are shelf stable or heat-and-eat selections for middle and high schoolers.

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New School Year Means New Look in TN Cafeterias

A month into this very different school year, Knox County School’s Food and Nutrition Services Department (TN) is running like a well-oiled machine. Executive Director Brett Foster said that all departments were included in the district’s re-opening plan, which contributed to the successful modifications of the school meal experience. Reminders to stay six feet apart and wear a mask can be seen all over the district, especially in the cafeterias. Staff welcomed students back with fun bulletin boards designed to make those important messages appealing to students.

The district has in-person and distance learners, something the school nutrition department has adjusted to. Positive messages are still written on containers to inspire students through the day, encouraging them to succeed and reminding them they are appreciated by their nutrition staff. They have used clamshell packaging for safer, easier transport and staff has been trained virtually on how to package each food component separately to prevent cross contamination and encourage fewer hands touching the food.

“Our department was able to share information regarding temperature checks and screening of employees, mask use, glove use and the use of clamshell containers/wrapped plastic flatware,” Foster said.

All meal components packaged separately, using clam shells for salads and individually wrapped fruits and vegetables.

By requiring meal registration for distance learners, staff have a better idea of participation with exact number of meals per site, something they learned was important in the spring when they had open meal pick-up. This fall, while menu options have been simplified, new menu items will still be introduced, said Foster. She wants students who are participating in school meals to enjoy what they are eating and says less choice does not mean less food. Offering fewer choices than normal helps to speed up students through the serving line, which helps shorten the time students might be exposed to others. Masks are required for students going through the serving line and assigned seating creates space between students. Students are encouraged to wash hands prior to eating meals and provided hand sanitizer.

While this school year looks different than others, Foster said she hopes students and families realize they are still providing the same healthy and delicious school meals they have become accustomed to. The district will continue to offer the best school meals possible to both distance and in-person students.

Blog Post Featured Image: Food service staff prepare grab and go flatware sets for students, minimizing the need to touch napkins and cutlery.