On August 2nd a session titled “Meeting the Nutritional Needs of Children with Special Dietary Requests was presented at the summer conference for the Nuts and Bolts of School Nutrition Programs. Educational Specialists for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education discussed solutions to common questions about serving students with special dietary needs. Featured discussion points included the documentation of dietary requests, qualifying dietary conditions under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and requirements for meal modifications and food substitutions.
One of the first points of the presentation that initiated discussion among audience members involved whether or not medical documentation is necessary for dietary requests. Multiple scenarios were discussed to clarify when medical documentation is and is not required. The relationship between medical documentation and IEPs, as well as meal modifications and the importance of adhering to meal requirements was also included. Please visit the JSI website for more information about the conference and to view the presentation files for the Nuts & Bolts of School Nutrition Programs Conference including the Special Dietary Needs presentation handout.
To create a successful meal accommodation based upon special dietary requests, it is important to keep three main points in mind:
1.) The need for medical documentation varies based on the situation, 2.) There are different types of meal accommodations from food allergies to texture modifications, and 3.) If applicable, ensure modified meal items meet any and all necessary nutrition standards. Be sure to refer to this excellent guide from USDA-FNS: Accommodating Children with Disabilities in the School Meal Programs, Guidance for School Food Service Professionals.
For additional resources about the special dietary needs of children at school please visit the JSI Resource Center: Special Dietary Needs and Making It Count. Additional training opportunities from JSI include Food Allergies and Gluten-Free at School Workshops to Go, Food Allergies On Demand training. The Managing Life-Threatening Allergies in Schools manual is also conveniently available online for reference.
On May 31st the Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit featured a session titled “Team Up: Breaking Breakfast Barriers.” Similar to other Team Up sessions sponsored by Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and hosted by The John C. Stalker Institute, this mini-session focused on barriers and solutions from school nutrition professionals to promote the School Breakfast Program.
During this session, school nutrition professionals shared their experiences of how they increased the success of their school breakfast programs. The panel of speakers included: Food Service Director, Kristen Gentili, RD, LDN, from Natick Public Schools, West Bridgewater Public Schools’ Food Service Director, Ann Marie Grinder, Mashpee Public Schools’ Nutrition Coordinator,Gus Stickley Needham Public Schools’ Nutrition Outreach Coordinator, Jen Tuttelman, RD, and the Director of Food Service at Greenfield Public Schools, Madison Walker. Nutrition Education and School Wellness Training Coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Denise Courtney, MS, RD, was the facilitator of this panel session.
As panelists discussed their experiences with increasing participation in school breakfast programs, the barriers they encountered and their approaches to break down these barriers were overall similar.
Challenge: Students may be unwilling to go the cafeteria for breakfast.
- According to panelists Kristen Gentile and Ann Marie Grinder, breakfast was offered in the cafeteria at their schools, but students did not take advantage of the breakfast service. They found that students congregated in the school hallways in the morning or those waiting in the cafeteria did not get out of their seats to buy breakfast.
Solution: Provide a food cart or snack rack placed near the cafeteria for students take breakfast to go.
- The Natick High School has the breakfast cart open until late morning (10:00am) to give students an opportunity to purchase food in between classes.
Any school districts that wish to have breakfast carts that are used for school breakfast programs, such as those in Natick, can apply for a grant through New England Dairy and Food Council. The carts allow both cold and warm items to be served and can be placed at convenient locations in the school or school cafeteria.
- The Nutrition Coordinator of the Mashpee Public Schools Gus Stickley, shared with the attendees that they created a bagged, grab-and-go breakfast program that consisted of mostly pre-made items such as cereal, milk, and fruit. Students take these breakfasts to go as they enter the school in the morning.
Challenge: Schools may not allow food in the classroom. This creates issues with students having the time to buy food and eat it before class begins.
Solution: Allow breakfast in the classroom.
- It was found among panel members that there is a higher participation rate in breakfast programs in schools that allow food in the classroom. In these cases, students are able to purchase the breakfast (or get free or reduced breakfast) and eat it in the classroom.
- Madison Walker shared with the audience that in the Greenfield school district, over 60 percent of students qualify for free or reduced breakfast, and it is encouraged that students eat in the classroom. In doing this, it was found that there was a reduced stigma around getting free or reduced breakfast, since all students are eating in the classroom.
The take away message from the panel about increasing the success of school breakfast programs… bring breakfast to the students and when possible, have students eat breakfast in the classroom.
Framingham High School overhauled an empty lot of grass on-campus and turned it into a 1.5-acre garden called The Flyer Farms. Started in 2009, this garden not only grows supplemental vegetables for the school to serve but offers employment opportunities for high school students, marketing potential for the school nutrition program and serves as a space to educate students about agriculture and nutrition.
Chef Brendan Ryan, Food Department Administrator, spearheaded the vision for the outdoor garden. He saw this empty space between buildings at Framingham High School and saw the opportunity to grow fresh produce. Brendan said that Director of Foodservice Operations Raquel Vazquez, a graduate of Framingham State University’s Nutrition Program, “…was pivotal in the inception and installation of the garden.”
To get the garden up and running each year, the school hosts a Garden Day which takes place on a Saturday at the end of April. This event includes National Honor Society students, teachers and families who help the food service department get the garden ready for the season. Students can earn community service hours that day and the event gets the whole community involved in the school gardens. Raquel said, “We want to make the gardens as student-oriented as possible.” The team also hires students for the summer months to help mow, weed and harvest the gardens. These roles provide employment opportunities for students and help the food service department maintain the gardens during the summer months.
For a quicker return on investment, the team buys 90-day crops so they don’t have to harvest in the middle of summer. They also strategically plan what’s in each garden bed to maximize the amount of food they can grow. Brendan works with a local vendor to buy young seedlings versus larger potted plants to save on costs.
The team grows a wide range of vegetables including tomatoes, corn, peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, butternut squash, carrots, lettuce, pickling cucumbers and herbs. To liven up the space, they also grow towering sunflowers (that reach the second floor of the building) and a variety of other flowers for decorative purposes.
The lettuce usage in Framingham Public Schools is very high, averaging about 12 pounds per meal period. Although the outdoor gardens do grow a large quantity of vegetables, of course, this is not enough to cover the schools’ food service needs. Raquel and Brendan emphasized that the produce supplements these needs and on top of that, it allows students to learn how food is grown.
For phase 2 of the outdoor garden, the team also wants to grow herbs and flowers around an outdoor café. This will create an additional green space for students to spend time outside. Long-term, Brendan and Raquel want to expand their initiatives with a potential branded hydroponic growing lab. This lab would be operated and run by students in the Biology department and would help grow food for the school year-round.
Raquel’s advice to other school nutrition teams that are looking to start an outdoor garden is to do your research upfront before getting started. She said first, “Look-up your local regulations first, know what’s allowed, what you can or cannot grow. Test your soil, realistically space out your beds and ensure there is room to walk in between them and reach plants. Understand the potential barriers like pests or animals that would require you to add fencing around the gardens.”
In terms of community support, Raquel said, “A lot of the parents of students are super appreciative of what we’re doing.” Brendan shared that students now also just enjoy spending time in this space. He said that the Photography club comes down to practice taking photos, the drama club holds rehearsals there and students like to hang out and socialize by the gardens.
Food Service Director April Liles and Nutrition Coordinator Haylee Dussault turned an Organic Grow Rack into a garden of opportunity for Waltham Public Schools. April spotted EvanLEE ORGANICS’ Grow Racks at the School Nutrition Association conference in October and immediately saw the potential of growing food indoors to engage students and increase nutrition education throughout her district.
With the dedication and commitment of April and Haylee, five Waltham Public Schools now have these portable indoor gardens. The schools grow plants like herbs, kale, various lettuce varieties and spinach. They are always experimenting with new vegetable plants like the recent addition of radishes to the Waltham High School garden.
The Grow Racks are 4’ wide, 2’ deep and come on wheels. The Racks do not require any outside light because they are powered by timed LED lightbulbs. This functionality allows schools to have flexibility in where they place the Grow Racks and does not require them to rely on the unpredictable New England seasons and weather conditions.
To get started, April and Haylee experimented with one rack at Waltham High School to fine-tune the process. Once they found a successful method, they put together a detailed manual for the other schools to use and in turn, be successful with their indoor gardening. After receiving buy-in from the schools and purchasing the racks, each school selected a “school champion” to spearhead their school’s Grow Rack. April also ran a planning and “set-up” meeting so all schools knew how to integrate these Racks into their schools.
April emphasized the importance of starting slowly when beginning a school garden initiative and more importantly she said, “every school needs a champion to make this all a success.”
One of the many benefits of the grow racks is they are very low maintenance for schools. They just require periodic watering and then the actual harvesting of the produce. The school champion may also need to adjust the height of the lights as the plants grow. There is an initial investment in the structure and the soil but after that April reinforced that, “…you can keep reusing the soil for new plants. You just have to buy the seeds to keep planting. Other than that you just have to water them and the lights are on a timer so schools don’t even have to worry about that.”
April said that these racks, “… provide produce for our menus, connect kids to what we are growing and with the cafeteria. It’s a small investment with a huge reward for nutrition education.”
To promote these Grow Racks to students and to make the produce exciting, Haylee prepares samples for students in the lunchroom. The schools also use these vegetables on the lunch menu with signs that say things like, “Try some lettuce from your very own grow rack.”
Long-term, April shared that she has a vision for phase three of these efforts. The first phase was buy-in and the second phase was to get everyone planting and using the Grow Racks. For the third phase, she would like to incorporate the Grow Racks in ongoing school curriculum and provide more educational material and resources for teachers to be able to do just that. She also sees a huge opportunity to use the school’s harvest in fundraising efforts like selling fresh grown herbs to the school community.
If you’re interested in starting or expanding your school garden, whether it be a Grow Rack or another vehicle for growing fresh produce, Framingham State University offers a 4-week online graduate course called “Growing Your School Garden.” Sign-up today and enjoy the convenience of online learning and help prepare for the school year ahead.
For additional resources on school gardening and “going green,” visit the JSI Resource Center.
Standing at a little over 5 feet tall and 2.5 feet wide, hydroponic tower gardens add a touch of green to Foxborough Public Schools and most importantly, grow fresh vegetables for students to eat year-round. As Janice Watt, the School Nutrition Director at Foxborough said, “It doesn’t get any more local than growing food right in our kitchens.”
The gardens are spearheaded by Taylor Elementary School’s Kitchen Manager, Jane Rice, and operated by the entire Foxborough School nutrition team. Three of the schools; Ahern Middle School, Taylor Elementary School and Foxborough High School have towers in their schools’ kitchens and grow fresh lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes to serve in the lunchroom.
Initially, the vision for the school gardens was to have a greenhouse. However, the idea evolved into setting up hydroponic tower gardens to sustain a harvest throughout the school year. Jane manages check-ins with each of the three schools and starts the seeds indoors. She distributes the new seedlings to each of the schools after they harvest the fresh produce. She also trains the specific point person at each school to manage the towers which includes planting, harvesting and regular upkeep like checking the pH, feeding the plants and troubleshooting.
At Taylor Elementary School, the facilities department built a window for students to peek in to the kitchen and see what’s growing on the towers. Jane mentioned that special-education students often go to the window and find it to be very calming. Elementary School students do visit the kitchen and learn about the different parts of a plant, actually help plant new seeds and explore how the towers work.
During the summer months and school vacation weeks, Jane helps maintain the towers. Janice reiterated, “what school gardens need is a champion,” which is what they have found in Jane.
Janice also said some of the many benefits of using these towers are “…no dirt, no bugs and no weeding” which works well since they are stationed in the school kitchens and team members already have a lot on their plates throughout the day.
The towers aren’t a huge expense but are more of an upfront cost for schools. Towers are about $600 each and Foxborough Public Schools purchased several through grant funds.
Parents and the community have responded exceptionally well to the towers. Jane has also been recognized for her dedication and hard work for these tower gardens and was named one of Rainier Fruit’s Wholesome Heroes. When asked about her long-term vision, Jane said “If I had my way, we’d have a lot more. I would love to fill an entire empty classroom with the hydroponic towers.”
If you’re interested in expanding your school garden, whether it be a hydroponic tower or another vehicle for growing fresh produce, Framingham State University offers a 4-week online graduate course called “Growing Your School Garden.” Sign-up today and enjoy the convenience of online learning and help prepare for the school year ahead.
For additional resources on school gardening and “going green,” visit the JSI resource center.
On April 29, National Honor Society students at Framingham High alongside Food Service Director Brendan Ryan, teachers and families prepared the Saxonville school garden. This is the eighth year of the garden and last year the harvest helped make 1,000 gallons of tomato sauce and 10 gallons of basil sauce to feed 9,000 students across the district.
Congratulations to Brockton Public School as a recipient of the 2017 Turnip the Beet Awards! USDA awards annual Turnip the Beet awards to honor schools doing incredible work to offer nutritious and appealing summer meals to children and in turn, help meet the needs of the local community. If you’re interested in nominating a school for the 2018 awards, information will be posted later this year.
At Edison K-8 in Brighton, MA some students receive weekly Boost Bags on Fridays. These kits include several food items so students experiencing food insecurity first-hand can have proper nourishment through the weekend. Teachers see first-hand how homelessness and hunger impact students in the classroom and see the positive impact this program has on their student body.
Third, fourth and fifth graders from Whitin Elementary School went on a field trip to Whittier Farms in Sutton, MA accompanied by a very special guest; professional football player Derek Rivers of the New England Patriots. This trip was awarded to students after winning the Fuel Up to Play 60 Back to School Challenge. Students learned how the milk they drink is produced to provide great nutritional value and about the everyday responsibilities of a dairy farmer.
- Dover Sherborn made the news after hosting JSI’s first-ever Live Setting Training on April 5th. The school served a Mediterranean-themed “Make Your Own Pita Pocket” lunch alongside JSI’s Professional Chef Brendan Gallagher. This training incorporated the lessons, flavors and recipes from the “Back to Basics: Mediterranean Flavors Workshop to Go” and featured them live for students to enjoy in the lunchroom.
- Dedham Schools just received a valuable grant to expand their school breakfast program. This grant, which was from Amazon for $7,500, was used to purchase a breakfast and milk cart to serve breakfast in schools that do not have a cafeteria. With this new equipment, breakfast can be delivered to students in the classroom so they aren’t hungry in the morning and can start their day on the right foot.
- To celebrate National Nutrition Month, Medway Middle School hosted a “grain-sampling” event for students to discover different grains. The school nutrition team also created lunch dishes featuring these items so students can see how these grains can be incorporated in meals and try then in their lunches. All recipes were shared with the parents after the event.
- On April 2nd, Mayor Marty Walsh and Boston Public Schools Superintendent Tommy Chang joined the official launch of The “My Way Café” program at Bradley Elementary school in East Boston. This program was piloted for the past year and it allows schools with in-service kitchens to prepare healthy meals for other Boston schools that do not have kitchens to increase school lunch offerings throughout the city.
On April 5th, students at Dover Sherborn Regional Middle and High School loaded up their trays with tabbouleh, hummus, shawarma and more as part of a “Build Your Own Pita Pocket” lunch. This special lunch was created through JSI’s first ever Live-Setting Culinary Training, which brings the “Back to Basics: Mediterranean Flavors Workshop to Go” to life. With the help of JSI’s Chef Brendan Gallagher and the phenomenal school nutrition team at Dover Sherborn, the schools were able to take the concepts and Mediterranean recipes from the Workshop to Go and actually prepare them live for all students, across all four lunch periods.
The schools prepared a robust menu packed with so many tastes of the Mediterranean. The menu included chicken shawarma or hummus, Mujaddara (lentils and rice), melon mint salad and the add-ons were baba ganoush, tzatziki, tabbouleh and chopped lettuce, tomato and onion. Although these menu items were new to many students, remarks of “Can we do this more often?” and “Can we have this everyday?” could be heard among all grade levels navigating down the Mediterranean section of the tray line. At the end of the day, the school sold 250 of the Mediterranean lunches out of the typical daily 600 lunches.
Janelle Madden, the Food Service Director at Dover Sherborn Public Schools said, “This was absolutely, no doubt a perfect match for our program. We’re always looking for ideas to make food from scratch.” If there were any leftovers once the lunch periods were over, the team was going to repurpose items like the hummus for the power pack lunches the following day.
To attract students to the Mediterranean menu items, the school posted signage and white boards in front of the doors leading to the kitchen. They also loaded up sample trays of the baba ganoush and tzatziki sauce to have students try the flavors before deciding on their meal choices.
The Dover-Sherborn Assistant Cook Kim said, “Kids went in to today with an open mind. If kids have new ideas, we want them to bring them to the table. We’re willing to try them!”
Chef Brendan Gallagher said, “It’s exciting to see the workshop in action with the students and to also hear great feedback from them, that’s even better.” He also shared that this menu, “… brings new energy and excitement to the students and it’s also helpful for the staff to realize kids are more adventurous than they think with food.”
If you want your school to participate in this innovative culinary training, please submit an online request. Completion of the Back to Basics: Mediterranean Flavors workshop is required to host the Live-Setting Culinary Training. A professional development day is not needed because the same Mediterranean recipes are prepared and served in the lunchroom in real-time alongside a JSI chef.
The excitement from Day 1 of the 2018 Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit will flow right into Day 2, with a must-see presentation on “Branding Your Program Like a Pro,” in-depth breakout sessions and a recognition ceremony for school nutrition professionals and programs from across Massachusetts.
Day Two begins at 8:00a.m. with a welcome from the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
At 8:30 a.m. we are honored to have Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, President of Nutrition for the Future, Inc. lead a presentation on “Branding Your Program Like a Pro!” She will explore how branding can help meet customer needs with a comprehensive approach to excellence. Dayle will share creative ways to include nutrition employees in marketing and promotion; to engage students, school staff, and community leaders; and to tell school nutrition success stories to all audiences.
Dayle will also be leading the “Engaging Your Customers” track on May 31st for “Growing Your Nutrition Brand.” Dive deeper with Dayle in both the morning and afternoon sessions to build a strong brand for your school nutrition program. Learn how to use branding to enhance the perception of school meals throughout your community and increase participation for all school meals.
In the “Expanding School Breakfast” track, you can join the “Thinking Outside the Cafeteria Tray” session and discover alternative School Breakfast Program service models designed to overcome barriers to participation. After that, join the “Team Up: Breaking Breakfast Barriers” panel including School Nutrition Directors and Denise Courtney, MS, RD, the Nutrition Education and School Wellness Training Coordinator for ESE Team Up. Through this session, discover new ways to promote the School Breakfast Program.
For the second day of the “Maximizing Community Support” track, the morning and afternoon sessions will focus on “Game On: Six Steps to Building a Healthier School.” Learn how to work more effectively to improve your school wellness policy and practices. Assess your school environment using the AFHK-modified CDC School Health Index and create an action plan for your school’s wellness policy initiatives.
In the afternoon, Robert Leshin, Director for the Office for Food and Nutrition Programs will host a “News You Can Use” session full of updates and essential news for Massachusetts school nutrition programs.
Each day of the Summit provides 5½ continuing education hours to meet USDA Professional Standards training needs. Don’t forget to register by May 11th and secure your spot for the 2018 Healthy Kids, Healthy Programs Summit.
The two-day conference is sponsored by the Office for Food and Nutrition Programs at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and The John C. Stalker Institute of Food and Nutrition.