Three Graduates Complete The Certificate in Excellence Program at Framingham State University

The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition (JSI) celebrated the graduation of school nutrition professionals Nadine Lorenzen, Elizabeth Simon and Deborah Vaughn on January 11th for their completion of the Certificate in Excellence in School Nutrition Program offered by JSI at Framingham State University (FSU). After two and half years of hard work and dedication, these three graduates were honored by representatives of FSU, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and their loved ones.

The afternoon began with congratulatory greetings and reflections on the program by both faculty and graduates. The Certificate in Excellence in School Nutrition Program is the state-recognized certification that includes five comprehensive undergraduate courses over five semesters in topics designed to increase the competencies, knowledge and skills and advance careers for directors and senior management in school nutrition programs. Classes focus on important topics for school nutrition professionals which include computer applications and operating Food Service systems. Among the many benefits that come from participating in this program, students work on projects that are designed to provide real-life applications to bring back to their schools.

After receiving their certificates of completion, the three graduates shared their experiences from the program and what they took away from their 2.5 years of dedication.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Certificate in Excellence in School Nutrition graduation ceremony program.

If you’re interested in applying to the Certificate in Excellence in School Nutrition program, please visit the JSI Website for more information.

Massachusetts Team Up for School Nutrition Success

teamup1On November 9th and 10th school nutrition directors from across Massachusetts came together for a Team Up for School Nutrition Success Mentoring event, sponsored by The Institute of Child Nutrition, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE), and hosted by The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition. Mentors and participants worked together over the two days to share ideas, experiences, and challenges they’ve faced in school nutrition. The two-day event included breakout sessions that covered financial management, increasing participation and menu planning. These sessions gave participants the opportunity to share ideas, concerns and resources with their peers.

The event provided an opportunity for the sharing of creative solutions through panel discussions. Here are some of the best practices shared:

  • Student sampling surveys where students place empty sample cups into one of two buckets labeled with either a thumbs up or thumbs down symbol. This is an easy method for collecting feedback without the added work of synthesizing survey results. It is a good visual tool to see if the majority of students liked or disliked a recipe. – Crystal Andrade, School Nutrition Director, Old Colony Regional High School, teamup2Rochester, MA
  • It CAN be done! Open your mind, think outside the box. “Attitude is everything – you have to cook with love and serve with love.” – Jacki Dillenback, School Nutrition Director, Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District, Orange, MA
  • Incorporate recipes from staff members into the menu. It increases diversity of foods served and the staff are proud to serve these foods. – Jill Lucius, School Nutrition Director, Fitchburg Public Schools, Fitchburg, MA
  • Focus on communication with parents, students, and the community, about who you are and what you do. – Ruth Griffin, School Nutrition Director, Needham Public Schools, Needham, MA

teamup4After sharing ideas and best practices, participants were encouraged to set SMART goals for their own district. Participants worked with mentors to create an action plan to turn newly learned strategies and goals into actionable steps forward.

Participants’ Key Strategies:

  • Meet with principals to discuss methods to increase breakfast participation.
  • Increase participation for lunch by using Smarter Lunchrooms strategies.
  • Try Offer Versus Serve in the classroom.
  • Acquire more grill top space in high schools so that more grilled items can be offered daily.
  • Establish a water-use conservation program by the end of the school year.


The event concluded with a general session appropriately entitled, Going Forward, where ESE staff members echoed the importance of a plan of action moving forward and next steps. Participants were encouraged to continue connections with peers and to take this fresh energy back to their districts and use it to move forward to accomplish their SMART goals. “If you’re open to it, you always walk away with something new.” Sally Teixeira, ESE. The event was very positively received by participants and mentors alike. Here’s what they had to say:

“It’s been excellent. I’ve only been a director for two months so I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how friendly everyone is and how willing they are to help.” – Elissa Maunus, SND, Sutton Public Schools, Sutton, MA

“This opportunity to network and brainstorm about situations and challenges we all face has been super productive.” – Danielle Collins, SND, Chelmsford Public Schools, Chelmsford, MA

“This was the BEST program I have ever attended.  I would recommend it to all Food Service Directors, large and small districts, it brought us together like no other training had done before. – Diane Mikulski, SND, Abby Kelley Foster Charter Public School, Worcester, MA

Interested in additional information and resources? Check out Team Up for School Nutrition Success.

Swansea Keeps Lunch Fresh and Exciting

bakedpotatoes2On Friday April 11th I visited Gail Oliveira, RD, LDN, SNS, school nutrition director of Swansea Public Schools to observe their school nutrition program as part of the lab experience for my Framingham State University Foodservice Systems class. Swansea Public Schools is an account of Chartwells.

During my visit Gail expressed the simplicity of menu planning with the menu development program Webtrition2, which is approved by the USDA to meet the school nutrition guidelines. The efficiency of the program allows Gail more creative freedom as she able to easily make changes and incorporate new concepts. She often collaborates with the Kitchen Manager, Chef Karen for new and exciting menu ideas such as baked stuffed broccoli and cheese potatoes (shown on the right).

The serving line at the district’s high school was recently updated to accommodate several new serving stations including a very popular deli counter where students can request customized wraps and paninis for lunch. Other popular lunches include fruit and yogurt parfaits, sweet and sour chicken with brown rice and stir-fry veggies, and homemade pizza.

Visit JSI’s Resource Center for recipe and menu ideas! JSI’s workshop Infusing Flavor and Flair into School Meals is being offered at the SNA of Mass Chapter Meetings. In this workshop K-12 culinary trends, food presentation techniques and flavor profiles with student appeal are explored to encourage increased participation. Contact your chapter delegate for locations and dates for this workshop.


Colorful fruits and veggies on the serving line

Grilled turkey and cheese panini with spinach and tomato

Grilled turkey and cheese panini with spinach and tomato

Sweet and sour chicken with brown rice and stir-fry vegetables

Sweet and sour chicken with brown rice and stir-fry vegetables

Fruit and yogurt parfait

Fruit and yogurt parfait

Homemade pizza

Homemade pizza

Teaching Sustainable Practices with School Gardens

school gardenSchool gardening is quickly becoming popular in schools across the nation as a sustainable practice that also serves as a powerful education tool for students of all ages. Engaging garden lessons provide hands-on learning for any academic subject.

Lessons can include healthy lifestyle and nutrition concepts, connection with nature and the community, sustainability, school pride, historical practices, and the importance of sustained care from seed to harvest.

Many schools in Massachusetts have already started school gardens. To name a few, Amherst, Andover, Boston, Cambridge, Chelsea, Dorchester, Easthampton, Holyoke, Framingham, Natick, New Bedford, Northampton, Springfield, Taunton, Watertown and Williamsburg all feature gardens in some or all of their schools. Similarly, Foxborough Public Schools has indoor hydroponic garden towers that produce nutritious food for the cafeteria year round.

There are grant opportunities to help fund your agricultural education project! Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom partnered with Massachusetts State Grange, Massachusetts Department of Agriculture Resources, the Massachusetts Dairy Promotions Board and more, awards mini-grants to educators ranging from $300-$500. Grant winners are allowed to receive the grant up to 3 times for a maximum of $1,500. Additionally, City Sprouts of Cambridge, MA partners with public schools to aid in school garden implementation and provides resources for teachers.

Are you interested in school gardening? FSU is offering a 4-week online School Gardening 101 course that starts January 11 and goes until February 5. Click here to view the syllabus and registration information. You can also find many useful resources in the Go Green for Schools page in the JSI Resource Center.

The Certificate in Excellence in School Nutrition Program Graduation Ceremony

CAKEOn Wednesday December 16, a ceremony was held at Framingham State University to commend the students who graduated from the Certificate in Excellence in School Nutrition Program! The state-recognized certification includes five undergraduate courses over five semesters in topics designed to increase the knowledge and skills of directors and senior management who wish to advance their school nutrition careers.

Above: Graphic representation encapsulating what the program is all about.

The fifth session of the program will begin in January 2016. Visit our website to learn about the program or check out past blog posts about the program: Certificate in Excellence Tech Project Leads to an Innovative Approach to Nutrition Education, Advance your School Nutrition Career with JSI and FSU, JSI Leads the Way to meet the NEW! Professional Standards.

Congratulations to the graduates, oh the places you’ll go!

resize program

Graduate Reflections Final

A Day in the Life of a School Nutrition Director – Foxborough

Friday November 6th I had the pleasure of visiting Allison Johnson, the School Nutrition Director at Foxborough Public Schools to learn more about the school nutrition program within the Foxborough Public School District. During this visit Allison gave me a tour of the operations within both Taylor Elementary School and John J. Ahern Middle School.

Hydroponic tower gardens growing romaine lettuce (left), cucumbers (upper right tower), grape tomatoes (middle right tower), and green peppers (lower right tower).

Hydroponic tower gardens growing romaine lettuce (left), cucumbers (upper right tower), grape tomatoes (middle right tower), and green peppers (lower right tower).

The operation at Taylor Elementary School is unique featuring a hydroponic garden that produces vegetables that are harvested for the lunch program. Allison implemented the garden using grant money obtained from the School Garden Grant from the Whole Kids Foundation of Whole Food Market. Of the five public schools in the district, Taylor Elementary is the pilot school for the hydroponic garden. Allison reported that students became more excited about eating vegetables knowing that they were grown in their school and that the food grown from this project is also freeing up some money in the budget that can be allocated towards purchasing higher quality foods. She hopes to eventually implement the successful initiative in the other schools in the future.

image4All of the five public schools in Foxborough feature salad bars that were obtained through the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools Whole Kids Foundation Grant. Salad bars are an outstanding way to display colorful fruit and vegetable options and they include tongs and sneeze guards to ensure safe handling. Upon implementing the salad bars Allison educated students on how to properly use the salad bar, demonstrating that students should turn away and sneeze or cough into their arm when necessary. Furthermore, to minimize waste students are encouraged to take only what they can eat from the salad bar and are allowed to return for additional helpings at no extra cost.

Each month the lunch menus for the district include a “Harvest of the Month” produce item that is included in some of the month’s recipes. November’s harvest is kale so the middle school was offering Kale Apple Salad as a side dish on Friday, encouraging students to try new things. Additionally the menus feature “Meatless Monday” once each month. On this day all meals are meatless which is a great way to cut costs and minimize the district’s carbon footprint.

Check out JSI’s Pinterest board, The JOHN STALKER INSTITUTE (JSI) Rocks to see more images from this visit!

JSI can help your school nutrition program become more sustainable. Check out our Go Green for Schools Resources and the JSI Resource Center for ideas!

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

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.

Culturally-Relevant Recipes

How do you successfully incorporate culturally diverse recipes that reflect the student population at your school? Mellissa Honeywood, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Cambridge Public Schools (CPS), answered this question and more at Massachusetts’ Farm to Cafeteria Conference: Pollinate! last week in Worcester.

Honeywood began by discussing racial disparities in food and health. Race, class, and culture affect the foods we are familiar with. Honeywood noted that structural racial inequity is multi-institutional, and can be affected by factors such as housing, childcare, employment, education, and transportation. Child obesity rates vary by race, with the highest rates in Black and Latino children. Almost 16 million children in America often go to bed hungry, with Black children typically experiencing food insecurity more than other races. In addition, there are many cultural differences found within races. Read more about Racial Equity in the Food System in this report by the Center for Social Inclusion. These factors are important to consider in the Cambridge Public Schools, which has a diverse student population.

Culturally-Relevant Recipes Session

Ian Lavallee and Mellissa Honeywood of Cambridge Public Schools prepare a tomato and tofu dish.

By incorporating culturally-relevant recipes into school meals at CPS, students are encouraged to participate in school lunch. Honeywood shared steps that have helped her to successfully integrate international flavors in school meals in the Cambridge Public Schools:

1. Ask the community what they eat
Hold focus groups with immigrant families in the district. In CPS, they found that parents wanted family recipes to be incorporated into school meals.

2. Sample and adapt recipes
At CPS, family recipes were submitted and adapted at the high school. Recipes were researched for authenticity and adjusted to fit nutrition standards. It is also important to think about the feasibility of preparing recipes and if they are financially sustainable.

3. Sample, market, and repeat
Offering taste tests, such as during the school lunch hour, is important to get students familiar with new dishes.

4. Menu offering
Provide the new item on the school lunch menu, and analyze the sales data.

Tomato and tofu dish

Tomato and tofu dish, featuring tofu from 21st Century Foods based in Jamaica Plain.

In addition to incorporating multi-cultural recipes, CPS has been been able to include local foods into school meals. Cambridge Public Schools’ collaboration with CitySprouts has helped the schools to integrate gardens at the schools, and local foods from the gardens into the school menu. Cambridge Public Schools has also been ranked #1 for Best Food in America in a School District! View the story on Channel 5 and read about the methodology for the rankings.

For additional resources, click here for links to family recipes from Cambridge Public Schools. More recipe ideas for school meals can be found on JSI’s Recipes and Menus page in the JSI Resource Center.