SWITCH Coalition Resources During COVID-19

During the unprecedented changes that have occurred as a result of COVID-19, the state-wide Massachusetts School Wellness Initiative for Thriving Community Health (SWITCH) partners are sharing a variety of accessible resources for schools, students and their families.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE)

DESE has worked to remove any barriers that could prevent schools from serving meals while they are closed. USDA has approved DESE’s request to waive the requirement that school meal sites must be located in areas where at least 50 percent of school lunch program participants are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Therefore, all school districts that are distributing meals during school closures related to COVID-19 and are focusing the distribution of these meals to children and teens in need of them are now eligible for USDA reimbursement. Further details will be released.

The Meals 4 Kids website provides a list of school closure meal information, with a map demonstrating locations and a list of over 1,200 sites available for food distribution.

Massachusetts Health Council

The Massachusetts Health Council is encouraging middle school and high school students to put their creative skills to the test in a video contest! Students are being asked to create a video covering five ways that you can prevent the spread of COVID-19. Not only is this contest a great way to keep kids busy and do something constructive, and the winner may win $500!

The deadline for video submission is April 10th, 2020. The winner will be announced on April 17th, 2020.

New England Dairy

New England Dairy is working to distribute portable milk coolers for districts in need to keep milk and meals cold for service needs. They have also put together resources for virtual learning, including:

UMass Extension/SNAP-Ed

UMass Extension/SNAP-Ed has extended their resources for any individual requiring SNAP assistance. They aim to send weekly e-mails to partners featuring a recipe of the week, a nutrition tip, food safety and food access messages, and physical activity messages. For further nutrition and physical activity messages from DTA Snap-Ed, click here.


To promote physical activity, BOKS has opened up their curriculum featuring various 2-10-minute activity breaks. To encourage further participation and the promotion of physical activity at home, weekly e-mails featuring 5 activities are being sent to anyone subscribed to their resources via e-mail. Additionally, BOKS has been hosting Facebook Live classes every weekday at 12PM EST.

All resources and activity packs are available for download on their website.


Playworks has gathered a library of videos and other resources to highlight their games and activities for families to utilize in their homes. Each activity meets CDC requirements for social distancing and are available for free on the Play at Home website.

The Play at Home Playbook game guide offers a variety of games and activities for families to do together with little or no equipment.

Additionally, Playworks has also been utilizing Facebook Live three times a day to promote a virtual recess. Each day features a warm-up, a game, and a cool-down with a cheer. All past recesses are logged into the Playworks video bank to experience what each recess feels like!

Dover-Sherborn Goes Back to Basics with Meat Alternates

On Wednesday, October 26, 2017, Dover-Sherborn Public Schools hosted the Back to Basics: Meat Alternates Workshop to Go. Chef Brendan Gallagher brought the workshop to life with his high level of exuberance and passion for the topic.This workshop is designed to teach school nutrition professionals how to make easy, meat-free meals that can be integrated into any school. Meat alternates may be a way to start curtailing the growing childhood obesity trend since one out of every three children in the U.S. are overweight or obese. Additionally, meat alternates can be a good way to introduce new foods to children.


Meat alternates include: eggs, beans, legumes, cheese, and yogurt. Not only do these ingredients contain protein, but they all provide a number of different nutrients which contribute to optimal health and growth in children. For example, beans are a good source of fiber and are lower in saturated fat compared to meats. This can help with appetite regulation, weight management, and could possibly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.

In addition to providing numerous health benefits, meat alternates can be a medium for exploring new or culturally diverse dishes. With the recipes learned in this workshop, schools can prepare lunches that will have student’s taste buds travelling around the world with Mexican, Southwestern, Mediterranean, Italian, and other influences.

This photo shows several meat alternate recipes created by staff during the workshop.

After making these recipes, the staff at Dover-Sherborn sat down in the cafeteria and taste-tested them which created the true experience of a student. After doing so, they walked away from this workshop with the confidence to prepare each dish and explain the health benefits of choosing such meatless options. One way to start incorporating these foods into the school lunch menu is by introducing Meatless Mondays.

To learn more about combating childhood obesity or meatless meals, visit these resources: Recipes and MenusChild Obesity, and Culinary Institute of America. Additionally, join us at the Bean-a-licious Culinary Demo from JSI in spring 2018 at a SNA of MA Chapter Meeting near you!




Westport Explores Food Allergies and Ways to Add Flavor and Flair to School Meals

Written by Guest Blogger Katelyn Castro, Dietetic Intern at Tufts Medical Center

In the United States, eight foods or food groups account for 90% of all serious allergic reactions: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean, shellfish, wheat, soy, peanut, and tree nuts. Identifying foods containing these major allergens, developing appropriate substitutions, and avoiding cross-contact during food preparation in schools can be life-saving for children with severe food allergies. School nutrition employees play an essential role in providing a safe and inclusive cafeteria environment for children with food allergies.

On March 17, 2017 JSI hosted a Workshop to Go: Food Allergies for Westport Community Schools, which gave school staff members an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of how to manage food allergies in their school systems. Registered Dietitian, Christanne Harrison, provided training on food allergies versus food intolerances, the top 8 allergens, common food allergy symptoms, and suggestions for allergen-free menu substitutions. With activities on label reading, staff members learned to recognize hidden food allergens. With practice scenarios and groups discussions, staff also identified strategies to ensure a allergy safe school environment and a concrete emergency response plan. All content of the workshop was based upon the newly updated Managing Life-Threatening Allergies in Schools guidance.

In addition to the 2-hour food allergy workshop, the Westport school nutrition staff also participated in JSI’s Infusing Flavor and Flair into School Meals Workshop presented by Janyl Finnerty, a chef and registered dietitian. Throughout the workshop, Westport school nutrition staff explored K-12 food trends, taste and flavor preferences, food presentation techniques, and simple ways to enhance the flavor and appeal of school meals. Did you know taste testing was found to be the number one trend to promote healthier choices in schools, based on a 2015 survey by the School Nutrition Association? Taste testing is one of many strategies discussed in this workshop that school nutrition staff can utilize to increase interest in healthy school foods.

With multiple activities incorporated into the Infusing Flavor and Flair into School Meals Workshop, staff members learned how to enhance the flavor of vegetables by creating and tasting four spice blends. Recipe demonstrations of a Broccoli Salad and Tunisian Chickpea Salad also introduced ways to make quick and easy recipes that are also flavorful, healthy, and appealing to children.

Delicious Broccoli Salad

Workshop resources for Food Allergies and for Infusing Flavor and Flair into School Meals can be found in the JSI Resource Center. Visit the JSI webpage to learn more about the professional development opportunities to help you improve your school’s nutrition with engaging, interactive and practical workshops tailored to your school’s needs.

The Nuts and Bolts of Food Safety

Nuts and Bolts of School Nutrition Programs is a professional development series led by staff from ESE’s Office for Food and Nutrition Programs in coordination with The John C. Stalker Institute  developed to increase the knowledge and abilities of school nutrition directors to implement the USDA National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. The November session focused on the important topic of food safety in schools and covered HACCP principles, activities to enhance confident in implementing food safety plans and strategies to create a culture of food safety in your school. The session was presented by Cindy Rice from Eastern Food Safety and included ESE and USDA staff as well as 20 school nutrition directors.
Topicsfood-safety-image in this session included risk factors and prevention of foodborne illness, sanitation practices, rules of food service handling from receiving to serving, food recall procedures, and HACCP. Through education and review of these topics, all those in attendance received a Certificate in HACCP and Food Safety. Congratulations!
Looking for resources on Food Safety? Check out the Food Safety category in the JSI Resource Center which includes a variety of links to helpful food safety resources. Bring a food safety training directly to your school with the Essentials of Food Safety Workshop To Go.

Food Allergies: School Guidelines and Education

On October 17, 2016 at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo  nearly 350 attendees joined the session entitled, Food Allergies: School Guidelines and Education which aimed to provide useful in-sight into the role of dietitians/school nutrition professionals can play in implementing state-level guidance and professional development for the prevention and management of life-threatening allergies in the school setting.

Christanne Harrison (right) and Karen McGrail (left) all smiles after their successful presentation at FNCE

Christanne Harrison (left) and Karen McGrail (right) all smiles after their successful presentation at FNCE

As a leader in school-based food allergy guidance and education, Massachusetts has updated the Managing Life-Threatening Food Allergies in Schools guidelines and professional development offered to reflect the most current data, laws and policies, terminology, and protocols related to managing life-threatening allergies in the school and early childcare settings.

The Managing Life-Threatening Food Allergies in Schools guidelines are intended to assist Massachusetts school districts, non-public schools, early education and care programs, and summer feeding programs to develop and implement policies and comprehensive protocols for the care of children with life-threatening allergic conditions. The guidelines address:

  • Scope of the problem of childhood allergies
  • Types of detailed plans that should be in place to help prevent allergic reaction emergencies and deaths from anaphylaxis
  • Systematic planning and multidisciplinary team approach needed prior to entry into a school or program by the child with life- threatening allergies
  • School or program role in preventing exposure to specific allergens
  • Emergency management during a life-threatening allergic event
  • Roles of specific staff members in the care of the child with a life- threatening allergic condition

The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition at Framingham State University offers face-to-face and online professional development opportunities based upon the newly updated Managing Life-Threatening Food Allergies in Schools guidelines to school professionals across the Commonwealth.  These offerings include:

  • Food Allergies Workshops to Go – 2-hour workshop delivered in Massachusetts schools for school nutrition staff and managers.
  • Food Allergies Online Workshop – online version of the Food Allergies Workshop to Go provides a convenient training option for school nutrition staff, managers and directors.
  • Exploring Food Allergies – 4 week online graduate course designed for teachers, nurses, school nutrition directors offered by Framingham State University’s Professional Development for Educators.

Take advantage of these food allergy professional development opportunities! Visit The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition web page to register online or schedule your Food Allergies Workshop to Go. For additional food allergy resources, be sure to check out the Food Allergy resources and Special Dietary Needs category in the JSI Resource Center.


Bringing Farm & Sea Into School Cafeterias

On November 4th the Farm & Sea to School Conference held in Leominster MA successfully offered a wealth of ideas and resources to get schools involved with local farms and fishermen, as well as contacts to provide local produce and seafood school cafeterias! The morning began with encouraging statistics in the opening remarks from Rob Leshin, Director for the Office of Food & Nutrition Programs at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) who reported that Massachusetts ranks 9th in the country for farm to school programs and 68% of schools already have a farm and sea to school program in their cafeteria.

Opening remarks by Rob Leshin at the Farm & Sea to School Conference

Opening remarks by Rob Leshin at the Farm & Sea to School Conference

During the conference, two successful program models were highlighted. Through these examples, several ways to implement a farm-to-school programs were explored!

  1. Somerville Public School District utilizes a community supported agriculture, CSA, program with Drumlin Farm, located in Lincoln, MA, which provides Somerville Public Schools with fresh produce every week for their school salad bar!
    • The produce received by the school is only what is harvested during each season.
    • Drumlin Farm benefits from the money received from the CSA program.
    • This year, Somerville Public Schools added field trips to the farm and in-class lessons to help children develop a closer relationship with their school.
Somerville Schools CSA Program Flyer

Somerville Schools CSA Program Flyer

  1. Grow Food North Hampton serves the North Hampton community through their Red Bag program
    • The Red Bag program provides bags of produce to families with school-aged children and their families with a bag of produce each week for a set price of $20 for 10 weeks.
    • The Red Bag program is also open to all those in the North Hampton community, to ensure no one goes hungry.
Here are some reasons to eat local in your school! (Provided by the MA Department of Agricultural Resources)

Here are some reasons to eat local in your school! (Provided by the MA Department of Agricultural Resources)

.Check out the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources and the Farm and Sea to School Conference web page for more information. You can find additional resources in the Going Green category of the JSI Resource Center and our Farm to School – Supporting Local Agriculture blog

Interested in Hosting a Healthy Cuisine for Kids Workshop?

Healthy Cuisine for Kids is a two-day interactive culinary and nutrition workshop from the Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN) designed to help school nutrition staff work as a team to prepare, evaluate and present healthy and student-friendly recipes.  Participants will learn new and healthy cooking methods and apply the nutrition principles of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. During the two-day program, staff will receive 16 hours of training with four hands-on culinary labs including:

  1. Culinary basics, including the essential concept of mis en place
  2. Fruits and vegetables
  3. Whole-grain rich foods
  4. Meat/meat alternatives

After the workshop, participants will be able to identify quality food standards and understand nutrition principles for the foods discussed in each lab. Ultimately, participants leave the workshop feeling empowered with the tools and techniques to create meals that excite students and provide nutritional value.


Cooking demonstration by Chef Tracey Burg at a prior Healthy Cuisine for Kids Workshop

If you have been thinking about offering professional development to your staff over a school vacation week or during summer break, you may wish to consider hosting Healthy Cuisine for Kids at your school.  This workshop requires the full use of your school kitchen during the two-day workshop as well as a prep day prior to the workshop. Healthy Cuisine for Kids requires a minimum of 20-25 participants and maximum of 30 participants, so it may be helpful to join with school staff from other districts in your area. There is no cost for the Healthy Cuisine for Kids workshop and The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition is here to help arrange this workshop for Massachusetts schools.


Vegetable Pizza recipe demonstrated and prepared during a Healthy Cuisine for Kids workshop.

If you’re interested in learning more or want to schedule this workshop for your school, please e-mail us at johnstalker@framingham.edu. Please share potential dates for the workshop and include any questions you may have about the training.


Congratulations to the NEW LIFE Program Graduates!

On June 1st, 16 school nutrition professionals graduated from Nutrition, Education & Wellness: Leadership Institute for Excellence (NEW LIFE). These graduates participated in a seven-session knowledge and skill-building program designed to change the way school nutrition directors think and act as leaders. Additionally, they participated in online discussions to network and brainstorm about various topics. The knowledge learned and shared over the last year will serve all participants well in a time when school nutrition has a multitude of demands and new challenges.

new life

Heather Brunette
Jo-Ann Cavanagh
Anthony Grein
Gail Koutroubas
Dawn LaVallee
Lisa Leon
Tara Lightbody
Dianne Mucci
DebraLee Mugford
Heather Shastany
Hillary Standiford
Tess Sousa
Heather Torrey
Deborah Vaughn
Judy White
Dina Wiroll

To view more photos from the NEW LIFE graduation, visit our Pinterest page The JOHN STALKER INSTITUTE (JSI) Rocks.

This post was written by Robyn DeCiero, NEW LIFE Program Coordinator.

Get a Jumpstart on Professional Development this Summer!

As part of the Final Rule for the Professional Standards for All School Nutrition Program Employees the required training hours for school nutrition employees will increase for the 2016-2017 school year, effective July 1, 2016.

Beginning school year 2016-2017, annual continuing education/training requirements are as follows:

  • All directors must get at least 12 hours
  • All managers must get at least 10 hours
  • All other staff who work an average of at least 20 hours/week must get at least 6 hours
  • Part-time staff who work <20 hours/week must get at least 4 hours

The John C. Stalker Institute offers many different options for continuing education and training for directors, managers and staff.

Chef Tracey Burg, RD presents at Healthy Cuisine for Kids

Chef Tracey Burg, RD presents at Healthy Cuisine for Kids

Healthy Cuisine for Kids
Healthy Cuisine for Kids is a two-day training for school nutrition staff. The training is hands-on and covers culinary and nutrition topics such as healthy cooking methods and nutrition principles of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Participants will work in teams to prepare, evaluate, and present healthy, student-friendly recipes. Healthy Cuisine for Kids will take place at Cambridge Public Schools on August 4th and 5th from 8:00am – 5:00pm. Register here by July 15th.

Nuts & Bolts of School Nutrition
Nuts & Bolts of School Nutrition, a yearlong series of face-to-face and online trainings, is designed for school nutrition directors in Massachusetts to strengthen their knowledge of school nutrition program requirements. Education specialists from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Office for Food and Nutrition Programs will provide essential training on meal benefit issuance, resource management and food service operations. The series kicks off on August 2-4th with 3 days of training at Framingham State University from 8:00am – 3:30pm.

Management Institute
The Management Institute is a three-day institute for school nutrition managers covering leadership, financial management, personnel management, communication, marketing and nutrition. The Management Institute is taking place at the Devens Common Center in Devens, MA on August 16-18 from 8:00am – 4:00pm. Be sure to register by July 29th.

Take advantage of these August offerings to get a jumpstart on 2016-2017 professional development for you and your team! Visit JSI’s website for more information on these and other offerings.

Stepping Up to the Plate

SteppingUp1On Wednesday April 6, 2016 the Boston Globe in collaboration with Let’s Talk about Food hosted a two-hour session, Stepping Up to the Plate: Creating Tasty, Healthy and Affordable School Lunches, at the Boston Public Market.

The evening featured demonstrations and discussions around local successes as seen at Fenway High School in Boston. Earlier this school year Fenway High, in collaboration with Project Bread, transformed their kitchen into a test kitchen where Chef Guy Koppe and Chef Gaitskell Cleghorn Jr. have been whipping up budget-friendly, exciting and healthy recipes that students have been extremely receptive to.

Culinary demonstrations from Project Bread’s Chef Guy Koppe, and owner of local restaurants Rialto and TRADE Chef Jody Adams showcased the simplicity with which tasty, healthy and affordable lunches can be made. During the demos Chef Jody Adams noted the importance of incorporating umami flavor into dishes to give consumers a satisfied feeling. Two ways to add umami flavor to school lunches is to start by browning garlic, or to add tomatoes to the dish. Students from Fenway High’s Culinary Club served as a taste test panel and confirmed that both chefs’ creations were a hit.
IMG_1637Later in the evening Brendan Ryan, the school nutrition director of Framingham Public Schools closed out the session with a discussion of Framingham High School’s extensive courtyard garden that produces fresh produce for the school nutrition program and gets students involved. Brendan mentioned that in his experience, K-12 students are more likely to enjoy dishes that are made with five ingredients or less.

Visit JSI’s Resource Center to get information on how you can bring a chef or garden to your school nutrition program!