Braintree Learns about Food Allergies

On Wednesday, March 4th, over 40 school nutrition staff members from Braintree Public Schools gathered at the high school to learn abou012t food allergies. JSI instructor Christanne Harrison gave an informative and beneficial presentation on food allergies and intolerances, food labels, and strategies to manage food allergies in school.

The difference between food allergies and food intolerances was explained. Food allergies are abnormal responses from the immune system to a protein in the body, while food intolerances are adverse food-induced reactions by the digestive system to sugars.

The top 8 major allergens list was a popular topic for discussion among the group, with explanations given about labeling laws and key ingredients to look for on food labels. Labeling laws now require all products to declare the presence of any of these allergens in plain language on the label:

Did you know that 90% of all food allergies are caused by these eight foods?

Did you know that 90% of all food allergies are caused by these eight foods?

During the workshop, the group discussed symptoms of food allergies and what to look out for. The important role school nutrition staff play in schools was emphasized. Nutrition staff must read food labels for allergens, consider menu substitutions, avoid cross contact between allergens, create a safe and inclusive cafeteria environment, be aware of food allergy symptoms, and be prepared to follow an emergency communication plan – making them the unsung heroes of the school!

009The group participated in different activities, including a food label activity and an allergy scenarios activity. These activities helped the staff think about real-life situations and procedures. In addition to these activities, different menu substitutions that could be used in the kitchen for meals for students with allergies were also discussed. Some substitutions include replacing milk with fortified soy milk, replacing pasta with quinoa, barley, or rice pasta, and replacing peanut butter with sunflower or soy butter.

Bring this or other Workshops to Go to your school today, and be sure to use the JSI Resource Center to find information about special dietary needs, including food allergies!

Back to Basics: Fresh Vegetables and Fruits at Dover-Sherborn

Last Wednesday, school nutrition staff at the Dover-Sherborn Public Schools participated in a JSI Workshop to Go: Back to Basics: Fresh Vegetables and Fruits.

Chef Brendan Gallagher

Chef Brendan teaches how to increase vegetables and fruits in school meals

At the workshop, Chef Brendan Gallagher discussed health benefits of vegetables and fruits, healthy culinary techniques to prepare fresh vegetables and fruits, and tips on how to incorporate vegetables and fruits into school meals. His suggestions included:

  • Roasting vegetables, which helps to concentrate their sweetness. The caramelization and browning of roasted vegetables provides nice flavors. Brussels sprouts and root vegetables, such as carrots and rutabagas, are great candidates for roasting. To roast vegetables, cut vegetables the same size, season them with oil, salt, and pepper, put them on a pan lined with parchment paper to prevent them from sticking, and roast them in the oven at 425 degrees F.
  • Sneaking in vegetables, such as putting kale on pizza, in soup, in salad mix, or in smoothies.
  • Blanching vegetables. Cooking the vegetables al dente so that they are still firm, and putting them immediately in an ice bath afterwards, will help the vegetables to retain their color and crunch.
  • Making fruit salads, which can be a delicious and visually appealing dessert. Adding a little bit of juice, citrus zest, honey, cinnamon, and mint to a fruit salad can provide new flavors, help to soften firmer fruits, and help preserve the color of some fruits.

The kitchen staff then applied their knowledge as they split up into teams and made recipes incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables.

Recipe prep

Preparing fresh vegetables and fruits recipes

A variety of delicious dishes with fresh vegetables and fruits were prepared.

B2B Fruits and Vegetables

From left to right: Top row: mouthwatering fruit salad. Middle row: sweet potato tasty tots, roasted rutabaga, sautéed kale, roasted Brussels sprouts, and roasted carrots. Bottom row: sweet and sour salad, colorful marinated vegetables, lemon zest broccoli, fiesta corn and black bean salad, roasted vegetable wraps, minted fruit salad, and sautéed cilantro carrots.

It was a productive morning, with enthusiasm and new recipe ideas for the Dover-Sherborn schools. Resources from the Fresh Vegetables and Fruits workshop are available in the JSI Resource Center. Interested in hosting a Workshop to Go? Visit JSI’s Workshops to Go page for more information.

A Day in the Life of a School Nutrition Director

Students add healthy toppings to their salads outside the main line to maintain traffic flow

Students add healthy toppings to their salads outside the main line to maintain traffic flow

In December I had the opportunity to shadow the School Nutrition Director (SND) of Hanover Public Schools, Lynn Petrowski.  Lynn has turned the school lunch program in Hanover from drab to delicious. Four years ago the lunch business was unprofitable; workers and students were dissatisfied. Enter Lynn… who implemented innovative menu changes which played a major role in increasing participation in the school lunch programs. “The key is good food,” Lynn emphasized, “I love food and working with food, which gives me an advantage since I know how to make food that tastes good and kids will like.” As a food and nutrition intern, I was excited and inspired to learn more!

School Nutrition Director, Lynn Petrowski

School Nutrition Director, Lynn Petrowski

A SND wears many hats and my day with Lynn really showed the diversity of this job. The day started with a trip to the middle school to help them overcome a potential catastrophe: the very popular calzones were on the menu for the day but all the dough was stuck together — and lunchtime was quickly approaching. We joined the school nutrition staff rotating shifts in the freezer to separate the dough and hand-fill the calzones. This recipe featured locally sourced meat from the local Old Neighborhood Quality Foods. Lynn loves to incorporate local foods into school meals. Hungry kids lined up quickly; the sense of eagerness matched the smell of lunch baking in the air. It was easy to see that the students enjoyed this menu item and were eager to see it on the menu again. “When are we having calzones again?!” one very happy student asked. Other popular menu items that meet the state and federal nutritional requirements include buffalo mac and cheese, popcorn chicken bowls, hummus, and salad bars.

Homemade calzones were a hit in Hanover

Homemade calzones were a hit in Hanover

Fresh fruits and vegetables may take a bit more time to prep but they lend themselves to greater creativity which Lynn encourages. A good example was when the head cook in the middle school was inspired by a recipe on Pinterest for black bean sweet potato chili.  With a green light from Lynn she standardized the recipe and incorporated USDA commodity foods to create a new menu option. Lynn likes to shake up the menu because a lack of variety seems to prevent students from trying new things. The menu will get a shake up this month with the Ho-Ho-Holiday brunch where upperclassmen, who attend school in their pajamas, enjoy a buffet-style brunch with whole grain French toast, pancakes, and freshly cut fruit . Delish!

The afternoon included a visit to the elementary school, where we discussed food allergies and finished up the menu and order for the brunch. Back at the office, Lynn has an open-door policy which enhances positive relationships and communication. Several staff members entered with questions, comments, and concerns that were all pleasantly tended to.This experience was amazing and showed me how varied and exciting the day in the life of a school nutrition director can really be.

Acton-Boxborough Gets Back to Basics with Meat Alternates

On Thursday, February 5th, the school nutrition staff in Acton-Boxborough Regional Schools enjoyed the Back to Basics: Meat Alternates hands-on culinary workshop with Chef Brendan Gallagher from JSI.


Chef Brendan working with school nutrition staff at Acton-Boxborough.

Staff members preparing vegetables at the workshop.













Chef Brendan demonstrated cooking techniques for staff to make impressive, yet easy-to-prepare meatless dishes. They also discovered new ways to serve beans, legumes, eggs, and other meatless foods that look and taste great.


Prepared recipes, from the back left, clockwise: Three Bean Salad, Vegetable Frittata, Lentils of the Southwest, and Yogurt Parfait

The school nutrition staff at Acton-Boxborough are ready to use these culinary and nutrition skills to prepare tasty, healthy meatless recipes for their students. Has your school hosted a Back to Basic workshop? JSI makes it easy and affordable. Schedule a Workshop to Go today and bring professional development directly to your school nutrition staff!


Another successful Back to Basics Workshop to Go!

Photos courtesy of Kirsten Nelson of Acton-Boxborough Regional Schools.

A Field Trip to Bellingham Middle School

Last week. school nutrition directors and managers from MetroWest schools visited Bellingham Middle School to learn about their school nutrition program and network with other school nutrition professionals.

Participants saw Bellingham’s hydroponic towers, which were grant funded by Stop and Shop. Each day the tower gardens are given 18 hours of light from grow lights, and maintenance involves checking the pH and water. In the summer, the towers are placed outside. Produce from the hydroponic towers have been used for Bellingham Middle School’s extras bar.

Bellingham Middle School

Hydroponic tower (left) and extras bar (right)

Dawn Berthelette, Healthy Eating Specialist from Whole Foods Market at Bellingham, also spoke about the potential for public schools to partner with Whole Foods. At Bellingham Middle School, cooking classes and nutrition education are provided to students through a Whole Foods partnership.

Other aspects of Bellingham’s School Nutrition program, run by Jeanne Sheridan, include:

  • Chef Shelly Bernardini, a Johnson and Wales trained chef, runs the Middle and Elementary School programs
  • Recognized as a Healthier U.S. School by the USDA
  • A grant funded garden is in every Bellingham school
  • Serves breakfast to students with three methods: traditional, in the classroom, and a grab and go cart in the middle school
  • Daily menu and nutritional information is available for all schools through the Nutrislice app

Bellingham schools provide one model for how to successfully incorporate healthy options in a school nutrition program. This visit also provided an opportunity for school nutrition professionals to meet and learn from each other.

Bellingham Middle School Field Trip

Participants of the Bellingham Middle School Field Trip

This event was made possible through funding from the MetroWest Health Foundation. If you are with a school in the MetroWest region and are interested in hosting a free JSI Workshop to Go before the end of this school year, click here for more information.  For more resources for your school nutrition program, visit JSI’s Professional Development page and Resource Center.

National School Breakfast Week

National School Breakfast Week is here!

There are many benefits of eating a healthy breakfast everyday. Studies have found that:

  • Skipping breakfast and experiencing hunger hinder children’s learning ability
  • School breakfast improves students’ academic performance
  • Eating breakfast at school can improve children’s nutrition and can help to prevent obesity
  • School breakfasts can decrease the risk of food insecurity

Breakfast Sign

National School Breakfast Week is a great way to promote your school breakfast program! Whether your school breakfast model is breakfast in the cafeteria, grab and go, or breakfast in the classroom, here are some events this week sponsored by the Child Nutrition Outreach Program (CNOP) that promote school breakfast:

  • Monday, March 22015 Annual School Breakfast Video Contest launch. Submissions will be accepted from March 2 – April 3, 2015. Congratulations to students at the Landmark School in Beverly, Easthampton High School, and Sharon High School for their winning videos in 2014!
  • Wednesday, March 4, 10:00 – 11:00 am EST: Cafeteria Managers Conference Call. The Child Nutrition Outreach Program will host a conference call, to hear from and talk with five Massachusetts school cafeteria managers who work with different breakfast models.
  • Thursday, March 5: School Breakfast Red Carpet Event- CNOP will celebrate National School Breakfast Week at Medford High School. The event will feature remarks from regional, state, and local officials, and a premiere screening of CNOP’s school breakfast promotional video, “Everything Starts with School Breakfast.”

Let CNOP know why you are serving school breakfast by using the hashtag #schoolbreakfast and tweeting @ChildNutri.

For more on school breakfast, view our previous posts on school breakfast programs and the School Breakfast page in the JSI Resource Center.