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Team Up and Show Your Spirit for School Meals!

Posted by Jennifer Carlson, Amy Mazerall and Mydina Thabet, Child Nutrition Programs, Food and Nutrition Service in Food and Nutrition
Oct 14, 2016
Food service staff serving barbeque chicken to students
Food service staff serves barbeque chicken to students. (Photo courtesy of Right Light Photography, LLC)

The school nutrition community is celebrating National School Lunch Week from October 10-14. This year’s theme “Show Your Spirit” is all about encouraging parents, students and school officials to show their spirit for school lunch. Through the Team Up for School Nutrition Success (Team Up) initiative, school nutrition professionals have teamed up to provide nutritious and appealing meals to students, offering plenty of reasons for all of us to show spirit for awesome school meals!

The Team Up initiative, created through a partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN), provides school nutrition professionals a unique learning experience.  The initiative is designed to enhance schools’ food service operations by providing training and peer-to-peer mentorship to school nutrition professionals who want to maintain a healthy environment and strong student meal program participation. The goal of this training is to help schools find simple ways to meet the updated USDA nutrition standards from the 2010 Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA), while increasing the number of students enjoying healthy and flavorful school meals.

Donna Harris, the former Child Nutrition Director for Perquimans County Schools in North Carolina, attended the first Team Up pilot training in 2014 in the Southeast Region. Harris was seeking better way to engage students in school meals. During this Team Up training, she learned best practices, tips and tricks for increasing participation in school meals through panel presentations by school nutrition peer mentors. After the presentations, Harris joined other school nutrition directors to network and brainstorm on creative solutions for common topics such as menu planning and financial management.  Directors turned their ideas into achievable goals as they created action plans using SMART goals with the help of their peer mentors. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

In her action plan, Harris wanted to tackle increasing school meal program participation in the district’s middle and high schools, so she set SMART goals to obtain student feedback and create student-approved menus. Back at her district, she conducted two student surveys and group discussions to gauge student preference.  As a result, several new student-approved recipes were added to the menu: barbeque chicken, buffalo chicken wraps, chicken salad wraps and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Although students had not responded well to meals that align with these updated nutrition standards in the past, Harris received positive feedback on the additions once she engaged students in nutrition education, explaining the USDA nutrition standards that schools must follow. In fact, the school’s student government association assisted in explaining the nutrition standards to students.  Harris demonstrated that when students have a voice in school menus and understand the USDA nutrition standards, they are more satisfied and more likely to purchase school meals.  This was evidenced by a notable increase in student meal counts on the days that new menu items were offered. Even school staff provided positive feedback: “the lunches taste good!” and “it was delicious!”

Harris has since retired from Perquimans County Schools, but before her departure, she shared her action plan and best practices learned from the Team Up training with the new director. Harris wanted to see the Team Up spirit live on and encouraged the child nutrition department to utilize the Team Up peer mentorship model to train school nutrition staff.

FNS also wanted to see the Team Up initiative live on after the 2014 Team Up training pilot received rave reviews from attendees. In 2015, FNS hosted an additional six regional trainings to school nutrition professionals nationwide. The regional trainings were equally successful, and now the Team Up initiative has been expanding to state agencies in 2016. So far, 26 trainings have been completed in 25 states, with 11 more scheduled for the remainder of this year. To read about the success of completed State Team Up trainings, visit ICN’s website. Harris is one of many school nutrition professionals who inspire us to show spirit for school meals. FNS thanks all school nutrition staff who work tirelessly to provide our students a nutritious start to a bright future!

During National School Lunch Week, we continue to celebrate the progress that has been made in school meals, child nutrition and the overall school environment over the last seven and a half years. USDA is committed to providing school nutrition professionals with the resources they need to help today’s children grow into tomorrow’s healthy leaders.

FNS’ Team Nutrition is also celebrating National School Lunch Week by announcing the availability of a number of newly modernized and standardized recipes on the What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl website for use in schools and childcare centers. These recipes are developed to assist child nutrition professionals in meeting the meal pattern requirements by providing appealing, kid-approved meals that incorporate whole grains and a wide variety of vegetables and legumes.

For more information about the Team Up for School Nutrition Success initiative, check out the Team Up website and these guest blogs authored by former participants in the Team Up workshops.

Chicken stir fry in a bowl
This delicious and nutritious chicken stir fry features tender, flavorful chicken with red peppers, edamame, and carrots in a delicious ginger-based sweet and sour sauce. Find more kid-approved recipes on What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl.
Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition