Celebrating School Nutrition Professionals Across the Commonwealth

School Nutrition Programs across the Commonwealth are working diligently to ensure students receive delicious and nutritious meals amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Check out some recent success stories highlighting Massachusetts schools during the past few weeks:

A tribute to the school lunch heroes that work tirelessly to provide students with meals compiled to highlight various schools across the Commonwealth and the preparing, packaging, and feeding of healthy meals they provide during COVID-19.

Chicopee nutrition professionals launched a ChicopeeFRESH Classroom group on Facebook in an effort to provide virtual resources to share cooking and gardening lessons while at home.

Southcoast Today honored frontline workers providing meals for children in Dartmouth and New Bedford. These districts, and those neighboring them, have worked to ensure children that are reliant on school meals are still provided access to meals. The districts have also provided families cold and frozen items with instructions to prepare them at home.

NBC Boston highlighted Masachusetts schools that encouraged communities to honor school nutrition professionals on National School Lunch Hero day on Friday, May 1st. Districts honored their school nutrition staff by dressing up as superheroes, creating signs, and driving by to thank workers for their service.

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!

Foxborough Finds Fun at Work Using FISH!

Instructor Karen Alarie discusses the 4 components of FISH! philosophy.

Instructor Karen Alarie discusses the 4 components of FISH! philosophy.

Does the word “fun” come to mind when you think of your job? If not, our Finding the Fun at Work with FISH! Workshop to Go helps cultivate creativity, innovation, and fun in the workplace using four simple concepts.

On November 26th, 2019, school nutrition staff members at Foxborough High School gathered to participate in the Finding the Fun at Work with FISH! Workshop to Go presented by Karen Alarie, MEd, SNS from The John C. Stalker Institute. This workshop strives to promote creating passion and engagement in the workplace using the FISH! Philosophy.

Through this workshop, staff members learned how to use the FISH! Philosophy to build an energetic and innovative work environment through three primary objectives:

  1. Recognize the value of being engaged in the workplace.
  2. Identify the 4 practices of the FISH! Philosophy.
    1. Be There
    2. Play
    3. Make Their Day
    4. Choose Your Attitude
  3. Apply each of the 4 FISH! Practices to address issues in the workplace.
Foxborough High School nutrition staff members fill out stinky fish workshop activity.

Foxborough High School nutrition staff members fill out stinky fish workshop activity.

Together, the school nutrition staff members brainstormed ways to cultivate an energetic workplace in their school using methods that fit the FISH! Philosophy. Some suggestions from staff members included thanking and acknowledging polite students,  dancing along to music in the workplace, or holding competitions to invite students to name menu items.

You can read about further experiences with this workshop here. Learn more about how to bring the Finding Fun at Work with FISH! workshop to your school on the JSI website.

Coming in 2020! Back to Basics: Indian Fare

The team of culinary instructors at The John C. Stalker Institute gathered for a test run of the new Back to Basics: Indian Fare Workshop to Go which will be available in early 2020.

JSI Chef Brendan demonstrates key components of new Indian Fare culinary workshop.

JSI Chef Brendan demonstrates key components of new Indian Fare culinary workshop.

Like our other globally-inspired culinary workshops, Indian Fare is designed to spice up your menu with a taste of India and entice your students with a customizable Build-Your-Own Indian dish! This hands-on culinary workshop is designed to advance the culinary skills of school staff and give them the skills and confidence to make delicious recipes, such as tandoori chicken, chana masala, aloo gobi, and much more!

Here is a sneak peek of a few of the new, flavor-filled recipes to be featured in the new Indian Fare workshop.

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Keep an eye out in January for the new professional development brochure which will feature Back to Basics: Indian Fare and other new workshops for 2020! Request a culinary Workshop to Go on the JSI webpage and bring training directly to your staff this school year. Let’s get cooking!

News Roundup

School Nutrition Programs across the Commonwealth are working diligently to ensure that students receive real, freshly grown produce while learning about locally sourced food and the importance of healthy eating. Check out recent news highlighting Massachusetts schools in October.

Milton High School kept the growing season going by giving their special education students the opportunity to grow their own garden right in their classrooms. Produce such as kale, lemon basil, and lettuce are harvested by the students that arrive eagerly each day to see the growth of what they have planted. According to Milton’s Food Services Director, Jackie Morgan, the students are not only learning about ownership and responsibility, but also on a path to healthier eating.

Fall River elementary educator Timothy Powers was presented with a Teacher Champion Award by Project Bread and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts for his work in combating student hunger and efforts in helping offer student snack breaks. Timothy also worked to increase student participation in the school breakfast program and launched a new smoothie program to not only provide another breakfast option, but to teach students why breakfast and healthy food is important.

Sandwich students at Forestdale School learned about locally sourced foods that are offered daily in their cafeteria. The second graders were taught how to make their own mini cranberry bogs, sample cranberry juice and Craisins, and tried fish-and-chips using locally caught fish. Students were also able to try October’s “Harvest of the Month”, which featured local pears.

Back to Basics Recipes Now Available Online!

Build Your Own Stir-Fry Bowl Signage

Build Your Own Stir-Fry Bowl Signage

Livening up school menus has just been made simpler with the addition of our Back to Basics Workshops to Go recipes to the JSI website! These student-approved, globally-inspired recipes are standardized and include nutritionals and meal component information. Each set of recipes creates a customizable meal, including a BYO Stir-Fry bowl, Street Taco and Pita Pocket, that your students will love and will fit into your OVS menu.

Would you staff benefit from an extra boost of confidence and culinary skill building? Request one of our Back to Basics culinary Workshops to Go and your staff will be ready to menu these customizable globally-inspired meals. These recipes can be used to freshen up school menus with peach salsa and a build-your-own street taco with the Back to Basics: Latin Cuisine Workshop to Go, feature student favorites such as vegetable stir-fry and chicken teriyaki with the Back to Basics: Asian Fusion Workshop to Go, or introduce new flavors such as tzatziki or shawarma with the Back to Basics: Mediterranean Flavors Workshop to Go.

To help support staff members in executing the new cuisine learned during the Workshops to Go, JSI also offers a Live-Setting Culinary Training which brings the JSI chef back to your school following one of our Back to Basics workshops to guide school nutrition staff during regular production hours. Find more information about requesting a Workshop to Go at your school.

NEW! Coming in early 2020, Back to Basics: Indian Fare Workshop to Go!

News Roundup

School Nutrition Programs across the Commonwealth are working diligently to ensure that students receive real, wholesome food and freshly grown produce while making strides to end hunger in Massachusetts. Check out the recent news highlighting Massachusetts schools!

In September, our keynote speaker Chef Dan Giusti from this year’s 2019 Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit was featured on The Today Show. In this video segment, Chef Dan discusses his work with Brigaid and his mission to bring professional chefs to the front-lines of school nutrition.

In September, Hoosac Valley High School in Cheshire, Massachusetts received a grant kickstarting a new farm-to-school program. In this grant, the school expects to build three greenhouses, two supply sheds, ten raised beds, and an outdoor classroom. This grant will help involve students in not only eating healthfully but growing the produce and the program themselves.

In September, Waltham Public Schools partnered with Project Bread to ramp up school menus. Project Bread, which is an organization committed to preventing and ending hunger in Massachusetts, is sending Chef Vanessa to schools across the district to implement new recipes and creations for students to try.

School Nutrition Managers Gather for the 2019 Management Institute

Managers and directors from across Massachusetts who attended this year’s Management Institute.

Managers and directors from across Massachusetts who attended this year’s Management Institute.

Massachusetts school nutrition managers gathered together this month to take their management skills to the next level at the Management Institute. This three-day program, which takes place every August, is specifically designed for the professional development needs of school nutrition managers to strengthen their leadership and management skills.

Over the course of three days of hands-on learning, participants were met with highly relevant topics like leadership, financial management, personnel management, communication, marketing, and nutrition. Learning to cultivate positive cultures in the kitchen, managing cost effectiveness, and developing strong communication among team members were some of the key learning points on the agenda.

Here is some of the feedback we received from participants at this year’s Management Institute.

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The cost to attend the Management Institute is $250 per person which covers all workshops, materials along with continental breakfast and lunch each day.

Click here to learn more about past Management Institutes and to keep an eye out for information on next year’s registration.

Setting the Globally-Inspired Lunchroom Table

Back to Basics: Asian Fusion Lunch Tray

Back to Basics: Asian Fusion Lunch Tray

The JSI Back to Basics Workshops to Go are 3-hour internationally-inspired culinary workshops dedicated to expanding the culinary skills of school nutrition staff and promoting healthier, freshly cooked, and customizable school menu options. In Back to Basics: Asian Fusion, staff advance their culinary skills and confidence in preparing a customizable Build-Your-Own Asian bowl with student-favorites such as chicken teriyaki, crispy tofu, confetti fried, rice, and more! Back to Basics: Latin American Cuisine brings authentic Latin American flavors to schools and teaches school nutrition staff how to prepare a Build-Your-Own Street Taco menu option featuring fish tacos, fresh salsa, Spanish rice, and more!


These new menu-driven culinary workshops were created from a collaboration between the JSI Nutrition Education Specialist Jumana Saleh and the JSI chefs. In a recent interview, Saleh shared her observations from a recent visit to schools. “What’s been really fun is that the school nutrition staff are talking about how they can apply the workshops in their schools. Once the recipes are complete and we’ve set up the meal the way it would be served to the students, the school nutrition staff get to try and evaluate the customizable meal. They love it and start discussing how they will be able to execute and implement it – which means they’re taking it seriously.”

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Incorporating new flavors does not have to be a daunting task for school nutrition programs. Workshop menus are crafted to ensure flavors pair together well, recipe are standardized, nutritional analysis is completed and NSLP meal components are identified, and options for both vegetarians and non-vegetarians are included.

A huge benefit of the Back to Basics culinary workshops is the wealth of knowledge from the JSI chef instructors.  Districts vary significantly and the chefs recognize and adapt to the differences in space and equipment available in school kitchens. “JSI chefs give the staff tips and tricks that boost culinary confidence in the kitchen. The JSI chef teaches them how to adjust their own settings and how to utilize what their school kitchen has available.”

Back to Basics: Latin American Cuisine Lunch Tray

Back to Basics: Latin American Cuisine Lunch Tray

Upon the completion of a Back to Basics culinary workshop, schools who would like additional chef support are encouraged to request a Live-Setting Culinary Training, where the JSI chef returns to facilitate the new customizable meal alongside kitchen staff during regular hours.

“At the end, because it’s customized menu, everyone’s plate has similar flavors but with their own creative twist. We encourage having students be able to explore things without it feeling like a huge commitment – like trying tofu without having it be their whole meal. We aim to expose the kids to foods from all over the world and try more things and be healthier overall.”

JSI Director Appointed to ICN Advisory Board

Karen McGrail, Director of John Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition.

Karen McGrail, Director of John Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition.

In March 2019, the newly formed Culinary Training and Education Advisory Board convened their first meeting at the Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN) headquarters at the University of Mississippi. Karen McGrail, MEd, RDN, LDN, Director of The John C. Stalker Institute (JSI) of Food and Nutrition, has been appointed as an advisory board member for the newly established national program.

The Culinary Training and Education Initiative is a new collaboration between the USDA and ICN. The goal of the program is to create and offer culinary resources and trainings that address the competencies, knowledge, and skills necessary to assist school nutrition professionals and school chefs to prepare and serve high quality, student-approved school meals.

McGrail has served as Director of The John C. Stalker Institute since 2012, as well as an adjunct faculty member for the Food and Nutrition Department at Framingham State University for the past 20 years. According to McGrail, “JSI has long offered culinary workshops for school nutrition staff in Massachusetts aimed at promoting delicious and nutritious made from scratch recipes. Our new Back to Basics Culinary Workshops to Go incorporate Gen Z-inspired food trends, include recipes for Asian fusion, Latin American cuisines and Mediterranean flavors.” McGrail says “I was thrilled and honored to be invited to be a member of the Culinary Training and Education Advisory Board and look forward to contributing to this comprehensive national culinary training initiative.