City of residence: Bonaire
Occupation: Nutrition manager, Perry High School
Q: What’s the role of a school nutrition manager?
A: We oversee school food services. That includes managing all aspects of the kitchen from food to employees, to budgets, to cooking, cleaning up, monitoring recipes, making sure food temperatures are right and foods are safe, abiding by guidelines and I guess above all, preparing nutritional foods our kids will like and eat. We maintain the school’s recipes and serve each kid from first to the last.
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Q: So you have to have approved nutrition, but food students will eat.
A: We listen to students. We do taste-testing with the kids to determine if something should go on the next year’s menu rotation. Here in Houston County, all the high schools plan their meals together. The same with middle and elementary schools.
Q: How long have you been a nutrition manager?
A: Six years at Perry High School and 11 years total in school nutrition.
Q: And now you’re an award-winning nutrition manager.
A: I was named Manager of the Year by the Georgia School Nutrition Association. The Georgia association has 6,000 members and is one of the largest nutrition organizations in the country. We can be proud, too, that Debbie Register from Westside Elementary got second place.
Q: What’s the criteria for the award?
A: You have to be nominated by your county, then they tend to look for someone who’s thinking outside the box, being innovative with good customer service and often a spectacular rise in student lunch participation. I guess what made me stand out is I’m very involved with students. And I think outside the box -- a lot.
Q: For example?
A: Well, our pulled pork barbecue is pretty unique. It’s always on a bun, but one day I wondered why we didn’t offer it on nacho chips and French fries. We did and everyone loved it. We slow roast a lot of barbecue here. It takes a lot of time, but that’s what we want, food that’s nutritious and pleasing, and a little unique. We’re the only school that has it, but it’s been picked to add to all the high schools next year.
Q: Sounds good. Other innovations?
A: I realized a lot of students were leaving campus to go to career classes and not getting lunch, so I asked the bus drivers if kids could come through the cafeteria first and pick up to-go lunches. I told them I’d clean up their bus if it was a problem. They said OK and we’ve been doing that.
Q: Eating helps learning?
A: That’s the thing. We’re here to serve the kids; it’s not just selling food. I want to help students meet life goals. That means different things and for, say an athlete or member of our Junior Air Force ROTC, it means fitness and strength and getting plenty of nutritious meals. I want to help their dream and not detract with lousy food.
Q: You hear of school systems having problems getting kids to eat and losing money, especially under some federal guidelines. Doesn’t sound like your lunchroom.
A: We’re making it work. It may take extra work, but in Houston County we make a lot of things from scratch. That’s what you have to do to make it good. You have to make it like grandma used to. It’s more labor but better food and that’s rewarding. We’re blessed to have a certified dietician in the county who helps us meet nutrition requirements.
Q: What’s the single most rewarding experience in your career?
A: You’d think it was the state award, but really, it was the other night at the Junior ROTC banquet. They called me out to give me a surprise award they made up themselves to thank me for what I’ve done for them. Boy, that really meant a lot. My No. 1 is students. Put them first and everything else seems to fall in place. Plus, you have to have a great crew and teachers and administrators supporting you, and I have that for sure.
Q: It may be silly to ask, but do you enjoy your work day to day?
A: I love the career choice I’ve made. And I also enjoy my involvement in the state association. That’s why I’ve been involved as a school nutrition advocate in Atlanta and Washington D.C. Next year, I’ll get to serve as GSNA’s state president.
Answers may have been edited for length and clarity. Compiled by Michael W. Pannell. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.