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Nutrition Services Directors Deserve Our Thanks!

School food reform is not possible without progressive NSD’s

Before I met Ann Cooper, I didn’t really consider the importance of a school nutrition service director (or “lunch lady” as I had always thought of it). I was too busy raising my kids— making sure I squeezed in a fresh fruit or veg at every meal—and trying to spread the word about healthy eating to other Moms.

I was also fighting the sustainable food fight in my community, but I truly looked at school food as a lost cause. The school food “brand” that I had experienced when I was in school definitely didn’t speak to me. As someone who loved good food, I couldn’t see how school food would/could ever play in the good food arena. What I never considered was: WHAT IF? What if there were people leading school food programs that cared as much about food as the owner of the new chic, farm to table café that I was obsessed with? Wow! If we actually had people who were leading school food service teams that really cared about food, how it was prepared, how it was sourced, how healthy it was, and how it tasted…think of how things could be different. We could actually work with kids to start creating awareness, affinity, and value for good food.

I truly believe that in our current health crisis there is no job more important than that of a school nutrition service director. There is an average of 500 kids per school with anywhere from 1-100 schools in a district, if a school food service director is committed to helping kids value, understand, and eat better food, think of the impact they can have.

Having worked with Ann for the last five years, and seeing what it takes to change school food in just one district, I am in awe and incredibly grateful for those who have taken on this challenge. Beyond the operational, financial, and political challenges that come with the job, you also have to deal with the initial negative feedback from parents and kids who want what they are used to eating. As we are seeing with the recent anti-Michelle Obama social attack from teens who are unhappy with their school food, it is clear that we have a long way to go in helping kids understand the benefits of healthy eating.

Government can create all of the regulations they want, but ultimately nothing will change without food service directors who believe in serving good food to our kids. That is why I am so incredibly thankful for all of those who are making it happen day after day. There are so many people across the country to recognize, but here are just a few folks I want to thank directly:

Bertrand Webber
Director of Culinary and Nutrition Services, Minneapolis Public School District
What would school food look like if more high-end chefs put their culinary talent to the test and moved into school food? It would look like the food in MPS. Bertrand’s commitment to changing his district to healthier scratch cook meals, helping others in his profession any way that he can, and never giving up, gets him on my list.

Jessica Shelly
Nutrition Services Director, Cincinnati (OH) Public Schools
In my opinion, there is no better place to start then adding a salad bar into your school food program. Increasing kids’ access to fresh fruits and veg and free choice equals a win. CPS is Ohio’s third largest school district, and Jessica has added salad bars to every one of her schools.

Miguel Villarreal
Nutrition Services Director, Novato Unified School District
We all know how important breakfast is to our day. While government supports school breakfast programming, few kids participate because of the stigma of getting a free meal. After-the-bell breakfast for all is a great way to increase participation. By making breakfast part of the school day, Miguel was able to get over 1,400 NUSD students a day to eat breakfast, where previously only 200 had done so. Go breakfast!

Andrea Early
Nutrition Services Director, Harrisonburg (VA) City Public Schools
I saw Andrea speak at the recent Farm to School Conference and was moved by her commitment to sustainable procurement practices. Andrea is committed to buying as much local product as she can and has forged relationships with a ton of local farmers.

Rodney Taylor
Nutrition Service Director, Riverside (CA) Public Schools
Rodney is the full meal deal: salad bars in every school, scratch cooking, local procurement, and paying it forward. Rodney doesn’t only think it’s his responsibility to serve the kids in his district the healthiest, tastiest meals, he also thinks it’s his responsibility to help others in his profession create change in their districts.

Kathy Alexander
Food Service Director, Addison Northeast Food Service Cooperative (Bristol, VT)
Go Local! Last year, Kathy’s food service program set a goal of 15% local procurement…and they reached it! During the early fall months, between 30% and 50% of produce is local, from both school gardens and area farms.

Jenny Montague
Food Services Director, Kalispell (MT) Public Schools
I listened to Jenny speak about why the job of school food service director is COOL. Although I don’t know Jenny’s age exactly, I would wager she is the youngest FSD I have ever met. Jenny believes her job is a hidden gem that more young people should consider, specifically for the great opportunity in culinary upgrades, the ability to touch a huge group and shape their palates, not to mention getting the summer off!

Nancy Weiss
Food Service Director, Santa Barbara (CA) Public Schools
To tackle the stigma of free and reduced lunches in the high schools, Weiss has five “Mobile Cafes” (trendy food trucks donated by The Orfalea Foundation) that park outside the school and sell nutritious reimbursable meals to the high school students who otherwise might leave campus. I am so thankful for nutrition services directors who think outside the box!

Spencer Taylor
Nutrition Services Director, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools
From the first time I spoke to Spencer, I knew that he meant business. With over 140 schools in his district, Spencer is committed to kids eating healthy. Bringing his RD credentials to school food, he makes sure that anything he makes on the job, he would also serve at home to his own kids.

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