NEW LIFE for School Nutrition Directors

The first of seven sessions of JSI’s NEW LIFE: Nutrition, Education & Wellness: Leadership Institute for Excellence was held at Framingham State University this past Wednesday, April 29th.  NEW LIFE sessions focus on knowledge and skill-building programs to change the way school nutrition directors think and act as leaders.  Running from April 2015 to June 2016, participants use online discussions and networking, combined with bi-monthly meetings to gain a better understanding of how to advance leadership skills in order to improve the nutrition culture within the school district.

JSI Director Karen McGrail, MEd, RD, LDN welcomes the group of school nutrition directors to the first NEW LIFE session.


Over this 15-month span, seven sessions will be covered by various school nutrition speakers and instructors:

  • Lead Simply…Model.Connect.Involve
  • Communication and Team Building
  • Marketing and Conflict Resolution
  • Improving the School Nutrition and Wellness Environment
  • Workplace Diversity
  • Time Management
  • Public Speaking and Professional PresentationsJanet Schwartz reads from one of the first books on the school lunch program, "School Lunch" written by Emma Smedley in 1920.

Janet Schwartz, MS, RD got things rolling with a little history of the school lunch program, reading from one of the first books about school lunches, called “School Lunch” written by Emma Smedley in 1920 (pictured to the right).  She then celebrated school nutrition directors as leaders, spokespeople, educators, and the connectors between so many different people, departments, and communities.  This session emphasized the importance of school nutrition directors as leaders in the school community and the need to embrace the new release of the USDA Professional Standards in order to educate their school nutrition staff further.



Maureen Gonsalves leads the discussion on "Lead Simply...Model.Connect.Involve."

Maureen Gonsalves, MEd, RD lead the discussion on “Lead Simply…Model.Connect.Involve.”

The second portion of the session focused on leadership in the workplace.  “Lead Simply…Model.Connect.Involve” is a framework for leadership to create a special team of employees that are actively engaged at work.  This framework revolves around modeling the behavior you want to see, connecting with the people you lead, and involving them as much as possible.  It is essential, as a school nutrition director, to care to make things better and to create meaningful work in the school cafeteria.  Leading by example, which most of these directors already do, is an important way to create a better experience in the workplace for everyone.  Talking and listening with staff members can also foster a more honest and conscientious workplace, as staff feel respected and appreciated.  Most importantly, school nutrition directors were told to keep it simple and treat others how they want to be treated.  Activities and discussions were empowering, as school nutrition directors shared common thoughts and stories from their school kitchens, all exposing their roles as leaders.

If you are interested in other professional development opportunities, check out JSI’s Professional Development page, or if you are looking for resources for your School Nutrition Program, visit the SNP Leadership and Management page in the JSI Resource Center.


South Middlesex Regional Gets Back to Basics with Fresh Vegetables and Fruits

South Middlesex Regional Vocational Technical High School hosted a favorite JSI Workshop to Go on Wednesday April 8th: Back to Basics – Fresh Vegetables and Fruits. School nutrition staff received a hands-on culinary training, learning healthy new ways to spruce up vegetables and fruits for school meals.

JSI instructor Chef Brendan Gallagher taught the staff about the importance of vegetables and fruits in our diets, culinary techniques to prepare fresh produce, and different ways to incorporate them into different meals.


Chef Brendan presenting roasted vegetables to the staff.

Some tips included:

  • Use as minimally processed vegetables and fruits as possible.
  • Emphasize and encourage the consumption of vegetables and fruits to students.
  • Offer vegetarian menu items as options, along with a typical meat entree, to expose students to meatless choices.
  • Source locally grown products for the school cafeteria.
  • Encourage kids to try unique and new foods.
  • Sneak vegetables and fruits into any and every meal you can – try putting kale on pizzas, in soups, or in other entrees.

The staff were eager to prepare the recipes and practice the skills they learned.


Staff members working hard to prepare the Roasted Vegetable Wrap…

…And the final product – whole wheat tortillas filled with roasted peppers, onions, and carrots, and a little bit of ranch dressing and cheddar cheese!














All of the resources featured in the Back to Basics – Fresh Vegetables and Fruits workshop, and other Workshops to Go, can be found in the JSI Resource Center.

South Middlesex Regional is one of many schools taking full advantage of the MetroWest Health Foundation grant. This grant makes funds available during the 2014-2015 school year for the 25 MetroWest towns, covering the cost of up to two JSI Workshops to Go. Each school district from the MetroWest area is eligible! Be sure to schedule your training before the school year is up!

And take a look at South Middlesex Regional’s pride in their JSI trainings – with their aprons, badges, and certificates proudly hanging in their kitchen! Way to go!IMG_2147

Strategies to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity

On Saturday, March 7th, school professionals gathered at Pathfinder Regional Vocational Technical High School in Palmer for the Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom Annual Winter Conference for Educators, Growing Minds through Massachusetts Agriculture. This conference was aimed toward teachers and other educators and provided countless activity ideas, resources, and connections to bring agriculture to the classroom.


Strategies to Promote Healthy Eating & Physical Activity

JSI instructor Meg Whitbeck, MS, RD presented a session on Strategies to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity. She covered different ways to promote healthy eating and movement for all ages through education, incentives, and fun activities in the classroom, schoolyard, and school garden.

Wellness policies were identified as the first place to look to help promote healthy lifestyles in the classroom. Each school district’s wellness policy, driven by the community’s stakeholders, has different components to be upheld and implemented. Meg encouraged educators to look here first, and then create a focus for a program or initiative.

Meg strongly encouraged everyone to continue educating about healthy choices, as this is proven to impact children’s eating habits. Nutrition education can be incorporated into all different aspects of the curriculum.

Some helpful resources and ideas Meg shared included:

  • Host a BOKS before-school program, which are FREE programs before school that get the students moving for a brain and body boost before a day full of learning.
  • Hang posters and other visuals around the classroom and school promoting healthy food and exercise habits – a passive but effective way to reinforce a healthy lifestyle.
  • Take “Brain Breaks” to give kids a brief moment of movement to refocus their energy, such as this fun YouTube dance!
  • Flaunt your own healthy snacks, challenge students to bring healthy foods, and try new fruits and vegetables in the classroom with them.
  • Host a health fair run by the students, which actively engages them in nutrition education and has the potential to be a fundraising opportunity.
  • Hold food tastings, or Chefs Move to Schools events (which are FREE!) to spark students’ interest in healthy food.
  • Go on farm tours and field trips, and take advantage of Farm to School opportunities.
  • Start a school garden at your school, whether it be small potted plants in the classroom or a plot of soil in the schoolyard.


    Meg Whitbeck presenting to a group of enthusiastic school professionals.

Holly Alperin, EdM, MCHES, Nutrition Education and Training Coordinator of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) attended the session and spoke about an opportunity in Massachusetts with the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement. The DESE and JSI were awarded a Team Nutrition grant to be implemented over the 2014/15 and 2015/16 school years; 50 schools in Massachusetts will be provided with training and technical assistance to implement Smarter Lunchrooms strategies in their cafeterias as part of the Wellness Initiative for Student Success. The Wellness Initiative for Student Success is a hands-on, multi-session experience that guides school wellness teams to advance efforts for a healthier nutrition and physical activity environment for students and staff. Find out more information about the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement in the JSI Resource Center.

Be sure to explore all that JSI offers, including the following professional development programs and resources:

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!

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.

School Gardens at the Massachusetts Farm to Cafeteria Conference

On January 13, 2015 nearly four hundred supporters of the Massachusetts Farm to School project gathered at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester for the 2015 Farm to Cafeteria Conference: Pollinate!  The audience, including educators, parents, school nutrition professionals, farmers, and policy makers, came together to share ideas, success stories, and challenges.

A number of workshop sessions were offered throughout the day with presentations providing representation from across the state.  One workshop called School Gardens included panelists from two leading school garden organizations: Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom (MAC) and Backyard Growers.  Speakers included Alice Posner and Debi Hogan from MAC, and Lara Lepionka and Meghan Stratton from Backyard Growers.


Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom school gardening resources.

Alice Posner is the MAC Program Associate for School Gardens with a resourceful blog entitled “School Gardening Notes.”  On the blog, Alice offers winter and summer gardening tips, innovative approaches to making your school garden work at your school location, and design tips for garden beds.  In her presentation, Alice discussed the essentials for getting a school garden started and the importance of gaining community support.  She also showcased all that MAC offers as resources: garden-based lessons, workshops, how-to guides, mini-grants, and her blog.

Debi Hogan, the Executive Director of MAC, talked about financial logistics of school gardening and grant writing.  Since 1994, MAC has distributed $220,000 to 310 school organizations for gardens and reached over 13,000 teachers and farm educators through education initiatives.  MAC is a nonprofit organization that provides agricultural education training and resources for Massachusetts educators.  In her presentation, Debi encouraged listeners to apply for grants for school gardens, to write them correctly according to directions, and to appeal to the grant giver.


Meghan Stratton and Lara Lepionka from Backyard Growers.

The final presenters were Lara Lepionka and Meghan Stratton, representing Backyard Growers in Gloucester. Backyard Growers is a grassroots initiative helping to reshape the community’s relationship with food, offering resources and support for vegetable gardens for families, community groups, and schools.  Lara, co-owner of Beacon Street Farm in downtown Gloucester, spoke about the potential outcomes of school gardens, such as food production, science programs, and math programs.  She highlighted children’s positive experiences with gardens and how valuable the seed to fork process is to them.  Meghan Stratton, a FoodCorps service member who works with children in the gardens, spoke to how much the kids really love the gardens and enjoy spending time planting, harvesting, and learning.

For more school gardening information, check out the JSI Resource Center Go Green for Schools category which includes information on school gardening, farm-to-school initiatives, sustainability, and composting.  You will also find related curricula and lesson plans. MAC is sponsoring their 14th Annual Growing Minds Through Massachusetts Agriculture Conference for Educators on Saturday, March 7th in Palmer. Be sure to join JSI Instructor Meg Whitbeck, MS, RD, who will be presenting a session called Strategies to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity in the School at the conference.