It has long been known that students need quality food to fuel their education.
Equating the need to safeguard the health of the nation's children to a matter of national security, Congress established the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in 1946 to promote the consumption of free or low-cost, nutritious foods in schools.
In recent years, standards-based educational reform has improved the quality of education students are receiving in the classroom; now standards-based nutritional reform is improving the quality of food students are eating in the cafeteria.
According to the USDA, the passage of the Healthy Hungry-Free Kids Act in 2010 led to the eventual raising of nutritional standards for all items sold in school cafeterias. "We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables," said First Lady Michelle Obama, who championed the bill. Added Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: "Improving the quality of school meals is a critical step in building a healthy future for our kids."
Understanding healthy cafeteria food supports student success in the classroom, Mrs. Jennie Cheesman is leading the charge to meet and exceed USDA nutritional requirements for about 1,500 students in grades 7-12 at Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School.
What is the primary focus in managing the cafeteria? "I want to continue to improve participation both at breakfast and lunch. I especially want to see more students enjoying breakfast. It is scientifically proven to be the most important meal of the day, and breakfast is free for all students."
Offering more menu choices is one strategy Mrs. Cheesman uses to attract more students that benefit from a nutritious meal. "I'm thrilled to be able to offer so many menu choices. At breakfast, we have a minimum of 23 choices. At lunch, there are 30 entrees. We also have 4 a la carte lines that have between 8 and 10 choices which are different in each of line."
About her crew of 17 cafeteria workers, Mrs. Cheeseman said, "Everybody is creative. Everybody has ideas. We brainstorm on ways to get more students into the cafeteria to get what their bodies need to help them succeed academically."
While food is the most vital facet of cafeteria operations, special attention is also paid to building relationships with students. "Our favorite part of the job is serving and interacting with students. We keep up with the kids, their activities, their triumphs, their disappointments. We let them know we care about them and are here to support them."
The Florida School Nutrition Association (FSNA) selected Mrs. Cheesman to represent the state of Florida at the House of Delegates for the School Nutrition Association's annual conference in Utah. At this event, Mrs. Cheeseman won a drawing. The grand prize? An educational school visit from Cargill, a global food and agriculture company that also offers financial and industrial products and services around the world.
For Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School students and staff, the visit from Cargill-owned Shady Brook Farms was the highlight of National School Lunch Week (NSLW), a program launched by JFK in 1962 to garner more attention for the nutritional benefits provided by the NSLP through annual week-long celebrations of healthy foods offered by school cafeterias. The theme of this year's NSLW is 'School Lunch Snapshot,' the concept being capturing real images of today's school lunch experience for students.
Shady Brook Farms presented 'The Art of Turkey' educational program to students in Mrs. Michell's cooking classes. The program focused on educating students through engaging, personal interactions with Cargill Chef Faith Ford and Shady Brook Farms turkey farmer, Mrs. Nancy Miller, to share the importance of choosing good foods as part of daily meals.
Chef Faith's enthusiasm for her work glowed like a halo around her chef attire: coat, hat, and smile. She has worked for Cargill for 15 years. "It's a great company. They take good care of us."
Her role has been to help develop and test new products that provide tasty, healthy meals. "I'm a product development chef, a research chef, a kitchen manager, you name it," said Chef Faith.
To kickoff the school visit, Shady Brook Farms served up a meal Mrs. Michell's students will never forget. The nutritional food included low-fat turkey drumettes, fat-free fruit salad, and low-sugar juices. There was no mistaking how much the students enjoyed the meal.
"The turkey was delicious," said Nick Evtuch, a senior. "My favorite thing was the buffalo turkey drumette. It was huge and it tasted amazing."
"The turkey drumettes are fully cooked with a light seasoning," said Mrs. Suzanne McCarty, a Business Development Manager for Cargill. "They have a lot of versatility with the flavors such as BBQ, ranch, and teriyaki. We try to give schools opportunities to menu products like the turkey drumettes in different ways. We try to make it easier for the directors to plan menus that kids love."
College and career readiness is a critical focus at Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School, and Chef Faith contributed ideas and encouragement as she talked to students about how her own career developed over the years.
"I liked listening about how she got to where she is today," said Brooke Foxworth, a senior. "She started out as an assistant and did a lot of cooking for the company. Then Cargill paid for her culinary schooling to help her become a chef, which is really cool."
With the goal of teaching students more about the importance of choosing nutritious food and educating them about where food comes from, Chef Faith presented a comprehensive lesson on good nutrition, great cooking, and healthy eating. Throughout the lesson, she emphasized the importance of students making healthier food choices. "You only have one body. If that goes south, then you're in trouble."
Juan Restrepo, a senior, is a defensive tackle on the Viper's varsity football team. "It was good learning about nutrition," he said. "I know eating healthy is important. If I don't eat healthy, I'm not going to perform well on the field."
After providing students an overview of some of the focal points of the USDA's requirements, basic nutritional requirements and comparing and contrasting the nutritional values of a variety of food and drinks, she led a cooking demonstration in which students collaborated in small groups with the task of turning creative recipes into healthy meals.
|During the cooking demonstration, Cargill Chef Faith Ford walked from group to group and provided students with guidance, support, and tips as they learned how to prepare healthy turkey-based meals at home.|
"The cooking demo showcased one of the thick-sliced turkey breasts," said Chef Faith. "Each of the five groups had a different recipe that showed how they can use a safe, healthy, tasty product in simple ways to prepare meals at home. The turkey-based recipes included sandwiches, wraps, and salads."
"I liked trying the different recipes," said Brooke. "The Turkey Focaccia Sandwich was my favorite."
"The Turkey-Boursin Wrap was really good," said Juan. "I took the recipe flyer and plan on making it at home."
|Students in Mrs. Michell's cooking classes agreed that cooking lessons from Cargill Chef Faith Ford (far right) generated a healthy supply of smiles along with plates full of nutritional meals.|
"Visiting the school is amazing," said Chef Faith. "To be able to come in and teach about good nutrition and culinary skills is fun and exciting for all of us. Working with the kids is great. They are fun and enthusiastic, and they want to learn how to make healthier meals."
To make sure customers are receiving the highest quality turkey products possible, Shady Brook Farms trusts independent farmers like Mrs. Nancy Miller, who owns a farm with her husband in Harrisonburg, Virginia. The Miller family are among 700 independent farmers who produce the high standard of food Cargill delivers to its customers. "Food is a passion for me," said Mrs. Miller. "Once you eat healthy, your body changes. You think better. You feel better."
Like all Shady Brook Farms (regional brand) and Honeysuckle White (local brand found in Florida grocery stores) turkey growers, the Miller family farm follows a three-part verification process—turkeys raised by independent farmers, producers trained on proper animal handling practices, and the non-use of growth hormones—which far exceeds all current regulation requirements. Cargill is the first major turkey brand to make this quality-enhancing commitment to produce turkeys free of growth-promoting antibiotics in an animal-friendly environment.
Cargill's commitment to using only the highest quality turkey aligns with the labor of love Mrs. Miller feels for farming and animals. "You respect the animals. They give their life for you to live, so you want to give them the best possible environment. We raise our turkeys with the utmost care and dedication to make other families feel good about choosing Shady Brook Farms turkey."
Mrs. Miller is an advocate for regularly having turkey-based options on school menus. "Turkey is a plus food. It tastes good, it is good for you, and it is affordable."
What was it like meeting students that benefited from the work she does on the farm? "Wonderful. The kids at Space Coast are phenomenal. There is so much life in this school."
Lisa Douglas is an Education Segment Manager for KeyImpact Sales and Systems who connects food vendors with schools to help meet the food requirements outlined by the USDA. Previously, she worked as a Cafeteria Manager in Orlando for 7 years. She is as passionate about providing students quality food as she is about educating them about the cafeteria menu. "To me, it's about making the kids happy, seeing the smiles on their faces, and knowing they're eating something healthy," said Mrs. Douglas. "It's also important to explain to kids why USDA regulations have changed, and teach team how cafeterias are upholding these requirements."
"It's always the best part of my day to see when kids are excited about the good food they are eating in the cafeteria," said Mrs. Douglas. "Some kids were holding up the turkey drumettes and saying, 'Wow! Look at this!'"
"Cargill does everything from food ingredients to flavors to food that we serve to K-12 such as turkey products and eggs," said Mrs. McCarty. "Our role is ensuring we have safe, nutritious, high-quality products for kids that they'll enjoy eating. Schools must meet USDA requirements of protein, fats, calories, sodium, and all kinds of meat equivalents they have to reach. So we as a food manufacturer are very focused on helping cafeteria managers meet these kinds of requirements in appealing and versatile ways."
Included in The Art of Turkey program is a semester-long mural project that aims to meet portfolio requirements of the curriculum standards for Mrs. Carol Souve's honors art students. Cargill is paying for all of the supplies for Space Coast students to paint a mural that is inspired by the NSLW presentations.
The mural will incorporate different aspects of Mrs. Miller's farm, which she described to the class. "Our farm faces the West Virginia mountains. We have two dogs. We raise corn. Each student participating in the mural project will focus on a different aspect of the farm on their separate canvas and then everything will connect."
"With 18 by 24 canvases, each separate panel will be able to function on its own so each one will be a piece of artwork on its own but together they will create a whole work of art," said Mrs. Souve.
Yet another dimension of the Shady Brook Farms school visit that further increased student engagement was a photo booth set up on a decorated stage in the cafeteria.
|Students and teachers, alike, got in on the fun of posing with an inflated turkey to celebrate The Art of Turkey during NSLW.|
One of the key players in the planning of what was a uniquely powerful celebration of healthful, flavorful food during NSLW was Ms. Jessie Poole, part of the public relations arm of the Shady Brook Farms brand. "We are trying to get good, nutritious food in schools," she said.
Ms. Poole collaborated with Mrs. Cheesman in coordinating the first 'Art of Turkey' event at Space Coast Jr./Sr. High School in hopes of continuing to use the in-school demonstrations and other student-centered activities to help promote healthier food choices in schools across the nation.
Fueled by quality farming, quality food, and quality people, the Shady Brooks Farms school visit boiled down to a common theme. "The importance of showing kids where their food comes from and understanding the importance of good nutrition," said Mrs. McCarty.
To learn more about Shady Brook Farms, visit their website. To read about their family of 700 independent farmers focused on raising safe, nutritious, high-quality turkey, visit 700 Reasons.
See how the School Nutrition Association is promoting healthy foods in schools across the nation at NSLW.
Stay current with Space Coast Jr./Sr. High at Space Coast Edline.