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.

Norwood Gets Back to Basics with Vegetables and Fruits


Sliced peppers and red onions on a pan with oil, a dash of salt, and pepper

Sliced peppers and red onions to be roasted for the vegetable wrap

On Wednesday, October 22, Chef Tracey Burg, RD presented JSI’s Back to Basics: Fruits and Vegetables workshop to the school nutrition staff at Norwood Public Schools.  This fun-filled interactive workshop provides culinary and nutrition education focused on fruits and vegetables.

Chef Tracey prepared a fruit salad with homemade tzatziki sauce and allowed the staff to enjoy it while she explained the nutritional benefits and complementary flavors of the fruit and sauce. After a brief explanation of the objectives of the workshop, the staff got right to work. Staff honed their culinary skills using a variety of kid-friendly vegetable and fruit recipes.


School nutrition staff slicing celery.

School nutrition professional slicing fresh celery properly

The workshop also provided simple steps for the school nutrition staff to use vegetables more effectively in a way the students would accept.  Each step and ingredient in the recipe led to improved flavor and appeal. Use of spices and herbs instead of salt was emphasized to keep the vegetables colorful, flavorful, and healthy.

Each recipe was unique in the methods of cooking, spices and herbs used, and the main entree they would be a part of. The final show of the teams’ work was displayed before tasting everything.

After this workshop the staff of Norwood Public Schools can feel confident freshly preparing and serving even more healthy, fun, and delicious lunches to the students!

The array of food items made by school nutrition staff on a table.

From back left clockwise: Sweet Potato Tots, Roasted Vegetable Wraps, Mouthwatering Fruit Salad, Sweet and Sour Salad, Black Bean and Corn Fiesta Salad, Sauteed Carrots

Interested in bringing this workshop to your school? Click here for a Workshop to Go!

Need some healthy, kid-approved recipes? See some from the JSI recipe contest.


Free School Nutrition Workshops for MetroWest Schools


mwf.logo.colorThanks to a grant from the MetroWest Health Foundation, funds are available during the 2014-2015 school year to cover the cost of up to two JSI Workshops to Go. Each school district from the 25 MetroWest towns shown below are eligible. It is as easy as 1,2,3…

Map of the MetroWest towns and cities

Map of the 25 communities served by the MetroWest Health Foundation



1. Select up to two Workshops to Go

2. Schedule your Workshop to Go

3. Enter WAIVED METROWEST in the PO/Check Number field


The Foundation serves the MetroWest region of Massachusetts. This includes the following 25 communities and school districts:

Ashland, Bellingham, Dover, Framingham, Franklin, Holliston, Hopedale, Hopkinton, Hudson, Marlborough, Medfield, Medway, Mendon, Milford, Millis, Natick, Needham, Norfolk, Northborough, Sherborn, Southborough, Sudbury, Wayland, Wellesley, and Westborough

View the flyer for this grant.

Read the descriptions of our Workshops to Go.

Request a Workshop to Go. Make sure to write “Waived MetroWest” in the PO/Check Number field!


Substitution Solutions to Meet the Meal Pattern

What menu substitutions would your school nutrition program make for this scenario? Spinach salad and red pepper strips are on Tuesday’s lunch menu at Jonestown High School.  Due to a vendor delivery issue neither spinach nor red peppers were delivered this week. On October 29th the school nutrition staff from the Dover Sherborn Regional High School and Middle School addressed this scenario and more in the Substitution Solutions Workshop to Go led by JSI presenter, Lynn Petrowski.

Lynn Petrowski introducing the Meal or No Meal game to attentive school nutrition professionals To get ready to tackle the above scenario, participants  first played a lively game called Meal or No Meal, where they determined if each school lunch tray was reimbursable or not.

Lynn Petrowski showing a yellow and a red beetThe group was then ready to make menu substitutions for real-life school scenarios. A 3-step approach for making substitution solutions was used: 1.) Communicate, 2.) Use the Right Resources, such as the food component and vegetable subgroup chart and the whole grain equivalency chart (at the end of this USDA memo), and 3.) Document on Production Sheets. The group discussed each scenario using the resources provided and previous knowledge to make a solution. The workshop completed with staff being more confident in overcoming future obstacles.

Substitution Solutions is an effective workshop to help school nutrition staff make the correct substitutions for menu items offered in their school lunch program.

Click here to schedule your Workshop to Go!

To learn about school nutrition standards and regulations click here.


Online Food Allergies

Allergy season may be over but allergy training is always in session with JSI’s online, self-paced Food Allergies course. This online course is an alternative to the face-to-face workshop offered by JSI. Peanut butter on breadParticipants will learn the differences between food allergies and intolerances, the most common food allergies, how to read labels for food allergies, and other strategies to manage allergies in their school. Both workshops are recognized by the MDPH and ESE as acceptable training required in the Allergen Awareness Act M.G.L.c.140, § 6B.

The online workshop provides 2 hours of online training. The modules are concise and include videos of PowerPoint presentations complete with narration and some additional commentary. The videos are brief and informative. Additional PDF files with more information are easily found on the content page of several modules.  Real life scenarios are included to allow participants to readily apply what they are learning. The correct answers are explained in a separate video, giving learners the chance to review before taking a short quiz and receiving a certificate of completion.

Tabs of the module for the video, quiz, and PDF as provided on Blackboard

Screenshot of module 2 in JSI’s online Food Allergies workshop on Blackboard.

Three online food allergies sessions are currently available –  register today!

Click here for more information on food allergies including resources used in the workshop.

Filling it Up the Right Way in Westport

To kick off the 2014-15 school year, the school nutrition staff at Westport Public Schools participated in a popular JSI Workshop to Go Called Fill it Up the Right Way! In this workshop, participants learned proven portion control strategies to apply to their school nutrition program. This included activities using weighing, measuring, and proper use of kitchen equipment to deliver consistent and accurate portions.Various measuring cups and spoons on a tray.   The workshop started with an activity that emphasized the importance of portioning the amount of food served to each student. The activity was simple and effective. Participants rolled play-dough into what they visually estimated to be a 2 ounce ball and placed it on a tray. From this it was easy to see the variability of the size of the balls which ranged from the size of a marble to the size of a golf ball. This activity reinforced the idea that use of standardized measuring methods, such as the use of a scale or scoop, are superior to visual estimation.

The instructor went on to show how small differences of just 1 extra ounce per student can amount to over one thousand dollars in extra food ordered and potential unnecessary weight gain (beyond normal growth) for the student over the school year. An NFSMI video presentation of proper technique for scooping, measuring, and weighing was also shown to help school nutrition staff effectively portion menu items.

Learn about More Workshops to Go to help improve your school’s nutrition programs.

For more information on recipes, menus, and school nutrition standards, visit the JSI Resource Center.