School Lunch: Make A Difference & Get Paid
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) changed the school lunch requirements and standards across the nation in order to provide more fruits, vegetables and whole grain products on children’s plates. The new requirements are part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act signed by President Obama and supported by his wife’s campaign, Let’s Move! Not all is perfect with the new requirements, but this is a step in the right direction.
Other organizations, such as the School Lunch Initiative, created in 2004, continue to promote fresh, local, healthy food for schools and provide gardens, kitchen classrooms, and education to the youth in order to teach healthy habits. These programs and initiatives help to better the school lunch system, but more support and assistance is required to continue to make improvements.
Current challenges when discussing the National School Lunch Program are “being able to efficiently distill the complex regulations school districts must follow in order to educate folks outside the profession. It requires a fairly broad understanding of how the Federal NSLP impacts individual food service decisions in order to explore new creative initiatives,” reports Melissa Honeywood, RD, food service director at Cambridge Public Schools. Diane Duncan-Goldsmith, MS, RD, LD, 2012-2013 chair of School Nutrition Services Dietetic Practice Group, also explains how food cost and meal planning are still a challenge. For example, in her district, all children were offered 4 daily choices of fruits and vegetables, one of which was fresh, and weekly servings of whole grain foods. The cost of fresh produce and providing meal variety can be a challenge depending on the school district’s budget and total meal cost which includes everything from food to labor and even transportation.
Regardless of these challenges, there are many opportunities for dietitians to get involved with paid work within school nutrition services:
- Network! Duncan-Goldsmith tells how she found her food service director job through a co-worker who told her about the opening at the local school district. She applied and got it.
- Find out what jobs are available. Honeywood describes the state agencies that oversee school meal programs hire dietitians for auditing individual school districts, and program implementation, so this can be one of many job opportunities. Duncan-Goldsmith informs how jobs are also posted by professional associations, such as a local dietetic association.
- Look online. Duncan-Goldsmith indicates State Departments of Education often post jobs online.
- Talk to the schools. Most large school districts hire dietitians full time, and smaller districts may hire dietitians as consultants for nutrient analysis or as nutrition educators, notifies Honeywood, so check out what area you are interested in pursuing and talk to the people involved.
“There are tremendous opportunities for nutrition education within schools. School kitchens can prepare the healthiest meals in the world; however, if students are not familiar with the food that is offered the result is healthy trash cans and dissatisfied students,” enlightens Honeywood. Through education, dietitians can bridge the gap and make unfamiliar foods become familiar by showing how healthy eating can be delicious. Duncan-Goldsmith adds to get involved with local, state, and federal legislative initiatives, serve on your school district’s local wellness policy committee, or volunteer at your local school district to determine areas of improvement. Take that next step towards bettering our youth’s health and education.