Do you like my hat?

an illustration  from “Go Dog Go
My 2 year old granddaughter is obsessed with the children’s book, “Go Dog Go“.   Throughout the book, two dogs regularly meet up and ask each other “Do you like my hat?”.  In the book, the answer to that question is consistently “No”, until the very end of the book when one of the dogs is wearing an elaborate party hat with many objects being balanced from the hat.  Finally, the answer is in the affirmative.  “Yes, I do like your hat!   

Reading this book, over and over and over, as one tends to do with 2 year olds got me thinking about hats…
Being a School Nutrition Director is a little like the dog at the end of the book.  She is balancing so many items on her fancy party hat, that it is a wonder that she doesn’t fall off of the precarious ladder that she is climbing on.   I often feel that way… balancing all that I do is a little like climbing up a wobbly ladder, trying to keep everything in balance at the same time.  

Private Eye at your Service
Recently, I returned from being out of the district at a state conference for 2 days. As soon as I got back, my staff had me digging and researching some recent Point of Sale transactions to see if I could find out where an error had occurred.  So, I donned my “Sherlock Holmes” hat, and scrutinized the “books” for the morning as I tried to decipher where the errors were.    

At the time, we joked a little about how many different hats a school nutrition director must wear.   Private eye was the top of the list.  But as I worked at solving the financial mysteries that had occurred in my absence , accountant also topped the list.  The accountant hat is never far away, as we always seem to be crunching numbers… not only participation numbers, but also the numbers of our financial picture. Are students paying?  How much is our federal reimbursement this year? If we order milk from this company vs. that milk company, 
can we save a cent or two per carton? One cent really adds up when you are purchasing hundreds of thousands cartons of milk each year.  What price should we charge for student meals this year, and how does the Paid Lunch Equity tool fit in?  Indeed, our accountant hat (and our pencils) are never set aside for very long.  It seems to be the most important balancing act of all….  making sure that we are managing our expenses, all the while ensuring that we are attracting new customers and encouraging our paying customers to pay their balances due.   Keeping all the finances balanced can be exhausting and overwhelming.

Speaking of overwhelming…  working in school nutrition can sometimes be as overwhelming as it is rewarding.  Managing  inventory, staff, meal counts, the changing guidelines & regulations is enough at times to drive you ( and your employees) crazy!  Which is why at times, a school nutrition director needs to don a “therapist’s hat”.  

School nutrition employees are nurturers.  We love to make sure that the needs of children are being met, and feeding them healthy food is how we strive to do that.  But being a nurturer can sometimes lead to exhaustion.   Add to the equation the stresses from home… and a school nutrition director often finds that they are  offering support to staff as they sort out problems and issues that extend well beyond the school cafeteria. 

And we can’t forget some of the most obvious hats that we wear.  The chef hat is one that we must frequently wear, in order to make sure that our meals look and taste good.

Our district is very fortunate to have a full time chef on staff, and she travels throughout the district, from kitchen to kitchen, not only tasting and testing our recipes, but training our staff to do the same: making sure that our menus look and taste appealing every single day.

Of course, balancing the nutrition guidelines is extremely essential, and so a dietitian’s “hat” (hairnet?) is a necessity! With the crazy pace that the federal school nutrition guidelines have been changing, it seems that we are always manipulating the sudoku puzzle of red/orange vegetables, leafy greens, legumes, whole grains & grain equivalents, meat/meat alternate, calories, fat, protein, calcium… on and on it goes.  

Marketing is another absolutely important “hat”.  Marketing can prove very challenging for school nutrition directors, especially when they are already juggling so many other hats!  But without 
marketing, our message and our product may get lost in the busy-ness of everyday life.  Getting our message heard, sharing the news about all that is wonderful, delicious and exciting about school meals is key to maintaining and growing participation in our program.  Marketing school meals can take on many forms, from the “old school” printed menus that are sent home, to blast emails home and websites. Others are using messages on digital screens and marketing via social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sites in the constantly changing world of social media and the world wide web. Blogging and vlogging (video blogging) are also creative marketing ideas to consider.   

Wearing so many different hats can be exhausting, but it is also extremely rewarding and exciting.  It is certainly never boring!  And so, I will end this where I started it… back to “Go Dog, Go”.  Do I like my hat?  I do!  What a hat! I do like my hat!!!
an illustration from “Go Dog, Go”

2 thoughts on “Do you like my hat?”

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