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The Path to School Nutrition: A Reflection

Hear from Selam Algawerash, a nutrition and dietetics student at Illinois State University, as she reflects on her internship experience and journey into school food with the Chef Ann Foundation.

Hi everyone, my name is Selam! I am a Track 2 dietetic intern with Illinois State University! I’m currently fulfilling my 4-week food service rotation remotely with the Chef Ann Foundation, (CAF) in order to become a registered dietitian nutritionist. My interest in becoming a dietitian began when I worked as a home caregiver working primarily with hospice patients and I met many people with chronic and terminal illnesses. I remember one woman I took care of pulling out a bin full of medications her doctor prescribed her to take daily. One was for diabetes; another for high blood pressure; a different one for high cholesterol…the list continued. I thought to myself: there must be a way to avoid developing these chronic diseases. From that day forward, preventative health became a passion, and I realized becoming a dietitian will allow me to work with people and help them utilize nutrition as their first line of action for good health.

That is why I was so excited to work with CAF because they are practicing preventative health by intervening and making changes within school nutrition for kids! Getting kids to eat fresh fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins in school is setting them up for great health in the future. Especially if the only meals they have access to are the schools’ breakfast and lunch.

Although my time here with CAF has been short, I’ve learned a lot so far. In my first week, I was able to take four courses through the School Food Institute (SFI) which are online courses that provide professional development and training on transitioning to a scratch-cooking operational model in schools. These courses were School Food 101, School Food Operations Model, School Food Finance, and Recipes and Menu Development. Many of the topics I learned about were new to me so the modules helped give an in-depth lesson on what it takes to transition to scratch cooking. The lessons were informative and engaging and I was able to get a better sense of how change in school nutrition can be created.

I was also able to shadow Byron, Senior Programs Coordinator at CAF, in his meetings with different stakeholders and interviews with school districts to see if they met the qualifications to be chosen for the Get Schools Cooking Program. I learned how to input recipes into OneSource and to reference the National School Lunch Program Meal Pattern Chart to make sure the recipes follow these set guidelines. I was also able to contribute to an upcoming blog post on recipes with six ingredients or less for food service workers that are short-staffed.

The school food system has a lot of room for growth and I’m happy to have met people through the Chef Ann Foundation who are doing the work to create change! I want to give a special thanks to Byron for allowing me to shadow him and learn more about his role in the organization. Although I am unsure of which area of dietetics I will specialize in, I am grateful for this experience to learn about the impact I could make if I chose the school nutrition path.


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