Balancing tight budgets, complex nutrition regulations and strict food safety requirements is all in a day’s work for school nutrition professionals – and let’s not forget the hundreds of hungry mouths to feed!
Every May during School Nutrition Employee Week, schools nationwide recognize the hard work of the men and women behind the lunch line. Tray Talk has featured the many ways these professionals go beyond the call of duty: there’s the cafeteria manager who created her own Little Red Hen costume to teach students about the importance of whole grains, and the School Nutrition staff who run a special program to reward good student etiquette in the lunch room.
Making fresh wraps in Andover, Massachusetts schools.
In many cafeterias, school nutrition employees move hundreds of students through the lunch line with only a few seconds to ensure each tray contains the required components of a reimbursable meal, assist students with food allergies, ring up each meal and provide change.
Meanwhile, school nutrition professionals must be trained in food safety and sanitation and follow federal, state and local regulations and to ensure school meals are safe and healthy. They must guarantee their programs meet all the requirements of the federal Eligibility Manual for School Meals; effectively implement complex regulations such as the Final Rule: School Food Safety Program Based on Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point Principles and at all times ensure the lunches they serve provide one‐third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron and calcium, among other standards. All of this must be achieved within the framework of a budget that leaves little more than $1 to purchase food for each meal.
In the face of these challenges, school nutrition professionals use their creativity to make the cafeteria a fun and welcoming place all year long and perform their jobs each day because they care about the children they serve. So next time you visit your child’s school cafeteria, be sure to thank the people working behind the counter!