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.

© The John C. Stalker Institute, 2020
The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition is a partnership of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and Framingham State University.

This institution is an equal opportunity provider.
USDA Nondiscrimination Statement.

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