By Shannon N. Goff and Patricia L. Fitzgerald 2017-08-09 04:29:01
No one knows better than you that school nutrition departments are much more than straightforward foodservice operations. In the K-12 segment, you prep and serve nutritious meals, but you also nourish your young customers. Yes, school nutrition is complex and challenging—but it’s also without equal in the breadth of opportunities you have for creative engagement with these patrons. How lucky are you to work in an environment that supports learning, promotes health and nurtures overall well-being for each student? You may not feel very lucky as you survey the stacks of paperwork on your desk, while wincing at the list of unanswered emails on your computer. Fair enough. School Nutrition will be the first to concede that the weight of operational and administrative responsibilities can kill much of the fun in this business. Your plates are very, very full. So full that while you might like the idea of tackling a special project, the energy it would take to simply get started stops you in your tracks. This is exactly why you need partners—why you need to find the time to seek them out and build collaborative relationships together. Because the extra effort you invest today in this pursuit will pay off—big time—tomorrow. It can be in a renewed engagement you personally experience simply by turning your attention to something fresh and new. It can be in the relief of finding a partner to take on a long-procrastinated project. It can be in the sparks of energy that are generated when passionate people share ideas. Some anonymous Internet scribe said it best: “The more time and energy devoted to creativity, the more time and energy becomes available for creativity.” SN wants to help get you started and offers this list of one-dozen potential partners in your community. As a new school year commences, refuse to let the time bandits rob you of this opportunity. Pledge to reach out to at least one new partner before the end of the first grading period. 1) Core Course Teachers. Identify one or two individuals who are visibly supportive of the cafeteria program. Request to meet early in the school year to discuss possible opportunities to link the cafeteria with upcoming classroom lessons. They may have access to free, reproducible activity sheets you can distribute at meal time on such subjects as: fractions (food portions), geography (ethnic cuisines), environmental science (locally sourced foods), biology (proper nutrition) and so on. Use promotional observances such as National School Lunch Week to suggest lesson plans based on the real world of the school cafeteria. This can run from simple math problems for elementary students (“If a bushel of apples equates to roughly 126 medium-sized apples and there are 600 students attending school, how many bushels would be needed for every student to have one apple?”); to tasking older grades to conduct a cafeteria plate waste study as a health or science experiment; to researching the price point and availability of a particular cafeteria product (see page 73). School garden projects are fantastic collaborations that engage kids in trying the new foods that they’ve grown and harvested. These can run the gamut from container gardens in the classroom to bed gardens on school grounds to a hydroponic garden in the cafeteria! 2) Coaches & Athletes. High school athletes are powerful role models, especially for youngsters. Work with coaches to identify students who would be willing to serve at the heart of a peer-based marketing campaign for your school meals program. Partner with 3) Graphic Arts Students and 4) The District Print Shop to create a variety of posters, flyers, brochures, social media images and other materials featuring your student ambassadors and …voilà—you’ve produced a sophisticated campaign on a shoestring budget, while engaging several different groups in the success of your program! (And, of course, each of these partner groups could help you with other projects, as well.) Encourage the student athletes—and other school celebrities, such as the student government president, musical theater star, marching band leader, team mascot, etc.—to volunteer as guest servers during special promotional events, or even surprise younger kids by visiting the elementary school cafeteria for lunch or breakfast. 5) Family & Consumer Science Teachers. “A Circle That Draws Everyone In” (page 52) describes the efforts of a state agency pair that used Team Nutrition grants to engage teachers and students in this discipline to develop nutrition- and cafeteria-based programs. Such projects do not have to be elaborate. Ask culinary instructors to consider making a cafeteria rotation a regular activity or to recommend outstanding students to join the foodservice team to prep and serve summer meals or afterschool snacks. Older teens also might be willing to gain community service credit by leading or assisting with a cooking club for tweens, hosted by you or a member of your team. And certainly, you can suggest the teachers task students with a project to create a new recipe—one that meets all requirements, including budget and labor and customer acceptance—to be added to the cycle menu. 6) School Librarian. During National School Lunch Week, request that the school librarian (or 7. The Public Library, too) create a display of age-appropriate books about food and nutrition. (Make sure that there aren’t any selections that bash the cafeteria, though!) Suggestions you can offer to get them thinking in the right direction could range from A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon and Gregory, the Terrible Eater by Mitchell Shramat for the little ones to The Cream Puff Murder by Hannah Swensen and The Jungle by Upton Sinclair for older readers. Request that the display include signage both promoting National School Lunch Week and encouraging a visit to the cafeteria. 8) School Nurse. Collaborate with the school nurse to create and conduct an engaging presentation on the negative effects of an unhealthy lifestyle and imbalanced diet (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, etc.). Point out current school menu options and the specific benefits of particular items: “Today’s roasted carrots improve your eyesight, while tomorrow’s blueberry parfait contains antioxidants and protein that can improve skin complexion and clear up blemishes.” You can give this presentation to parent-teacher organizations, at community health fairs, back-to-school night events or the periodic meetings of a whole host of other potential partners, including 9) The Junior League, 10) Kiwanis/Rotary Clubs and 11) The Chamber of Commerce. These groups can support you with the donation of contest prizes for promotional activities, special project grants, volunteer time, “angel fund” debt-reducing campaigns and more. 12) Parent-Teacher Organizations. Request a school nutrition-specific meeting where you make yourself available to hear and respond to parent concerns regarding the school meals. As you build awareness about program realities and identify specific allies in the group, request their help in serving as goodwill ambassadors, especially on social media. Be sure to urge parents to positively contribute in these alternative, equally affective, ways: social media marketing of meal programs, visiting for lunch and eating school meals with the students. Encourage these groups to make a point to support their individual school cafeterias, especially for School Lunch Hero Day or to help underwrite unpaid meal charges. BONUS WEB CONTENT PICK A PECK OF PARTNERS But wait—there’s more! For another dozen ideas of potential partners for projects and promotions, check out this month’s web extras. Visit www.schoolnutrition.org/snmagazine bonus to access this content. Shannon Goff is SN’s advertising & production associate and Patricia Fitzgerald is its editor.
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