Am I the only one that always, without fail, starts singing Aretha Franklin when I think about respect?   The queen of soul sure knows how to command some respect…  “All I’m askin’
Is for a little respect… just a little bit, just a little bit”.

The issue of respect came up this past week, and I starting thinking about ALL that school nutrition professionals do behind the scenes to support the education learning environment.  First and foremost, we ensure that students are well fed, well nourished.   It’s what we are called to do – its as simple as that.  Or… is it simple at all?  

Food is a funny thing.  Everyone has to eat food.  Therefore, everyone thinks that they are an expert on food.  Everyone has an opinion on what is good, what is healthy.  Not a day goes by without a headline or article about some food related issue.  You’ve seen the fads and the headlines.  I don’t need to reiterate them here- gluten, dairy, protein, carbs, fat, no fat, … the list goes on and on.   And while everyone is an expert at “the food they LIKE to eat”, not many people are REAL experts at feeding kids – lots of kids, hundreds or thousands, all at one time – nutritious food.  For that expertise… we look to the school nutrition professional.

Here’s what happened this week that got me going on this.  A new child nutrition manager in my district was concerned that the number of students who had signed up to eat school lunch on a certain day was significantly low, and so she ventured up to the school office to inquire if there was a major flu epidemic or a field trip that we were unaware of.  The administrative support personnel in the office informed our manager that no… there was nothing out of the ordinary going on.  But, perhaps it could be what was on the menu.  Our manager replied that the menu was a favorite, BBQ Chicken, to which the administrative support person rolled her eyes and replied something like, “well there’s your answer”, as if it was the worst menu ever.  

I’ll just stop right here for a second to tell you that our BBQ Chicken Drumsticks are amazing! Rubbed with a signature spice rub, then slow roasted in the oven, and brushed with bbq sauce at the end.   Students love them, staff love them… they taste and smell delicious.   Sometimes, before a student has enjoyed this meal… they are UNAWARE that you can eat chicken that still has the bones in it!  We feel good serving this meal – it is #realschoolfood.  Whole food, cooked on site, and served with delicious sweet potato fries, a school baked whole wheat roll, assorted fruits & veggies and milk. 

This upsets me… and the school nutrition staff because we have worked so hard to change the school nutrition environment.  It wasn’t so long ago that our school nutrition operation was mainly freezer to oven.   Due to changing regulations, combined with a desire to serve more local foods and more whole foods, we have transitioned to a place where the majority of our menu is made from scratch, often using local ingredients, as available.  This has required incredible training and dedication on the part of our staff. You will not find a more enthusiastic, dedicated group of school nutrition professionals.  They have embraced the change… the journey, as we have dedicated ourselves to serving school meals that meet the USDA Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 guidelines, while at the same time focusing on #wholefood and #local food. 

Do we disparage the education professionals for their teaching methods or for their choice of curriculum?  Of course we do not!  We are not educational professionals!  We are not educated in what the best way to teach reading… or writing … or math.  We leave that to the teaching professionals in our district.  And we respect them for what they do!   And all we are asking… “is for a little respect… just a little bit”.   We are tired of the emails and snide comments about the menu, like the comment I received last winter when we had our Super Bowl Fun Friday Breakfast: “whose BIG idea was it to put a DONUT on the menu this morning?”.

The week ended on a better note…   as I sat before my administrators discussing next year’s budget, and telling them about all of our successes, as well as our challenges,  one of the administrators said, “School Meals are integral to the Learning Environment.  We have to support them!”  

Wow, I thought!  Thank you!  All we are asking, is for a little respect… just a little bit!   The time, dedication and effort it takes to feed thousands nutritious meals to the  students in our district (state, country) cannot be minimized!  As my friend Dayle Hayes, of School Meals that Rock says, School Meals Improve Learning Environments.  Its almost like our administrator had the good fortune of sitting in on one of Dayle’s excellent educational sessions.  Maybe he has… either way – he’s got the message!

School Meals Improve Learning Environments
from School Meals that Rock

Children come to school hungry – without food in their bellies, without a lunch in their backpack – every single day.  Hungry children cannot focus on their school work.  And so, as my administrator said, school meals are an integral part of the learning environment.   We are feeding the future!

Let’s all just respect each other for amazing work that we do.  Teachers, school nutrition professionals, technology specialists, custodians & maintenance professionals, ed techs & paraprofessionals – together we can accomplish amazing things.    All we are asking, is for a little respect… just a little bit.  Just a little bit!

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