This post is sponsored by the School Nutrition Association. All opinions are mine alone.
When I say lunch lady what comes to mind. In all honesty, for me it is the SNL skit with Adam Sandler and Chris Farley, hilarious but why do we think of the school cafeteria in this light? My lunch ladies were never like that but that stereotype seems to stick. When I was asked to attend the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference in Las Vegas I was excited to hear more. This invitation brought surprises and whole lot of learning all about those school meals and yes, the lunch ladies.
What is the School Nutrition Association?
The School Nutrition Association is a national, nonprofit professional organization representing more than 58,000 members who provide high-quality, low-cost meals to students across the country. SNA’s purpose is to have well-nourished students who are prepared to succeed. Every student has access to nutritious meals at school, ensuring their optimal health and well-being. SNA empowers and supports school nutrition professionals in advancing the accessibility, quality and integrity of school nutrition programs.
What I Learned: School Nutrition Association National Conference
After attending the School Nutrition Association National Conference I now have a whole lot of respect for those lunch ladies and nutrition teams (yes TEAMS!) that work hard at making sure there are nutritious meals provided for our school children. Before I stepped into this world of School Nutrition at the conference I did have a little TINY bit of background in this area. Before quitting my job to blog full-time part of my job was to manage the reimbursable meals at the treatment center I worked at. I attended a few USDA state trainings that at that point opened my eyes to what a true meal is at the school level.
That being said, I honestly had no idea HOW much thought was put into a school’s nutrition plan. So today I am hear to show some things I am super excited for, things I had no idea went into a school lunch plan and the overall experience of the School Nutritional Association National Conference.
I started my experience off by sitting in on a session led by three amazing people from a large school district in Florida that focused on how they created a student approved menu using innovative approaches, including chef demos, menu committee meetings and food shows for the kids.
It was so cool to hear the excitement that this nutrition team had in making sure they were providing the very best for every child in their district. Time for some more background on our family. Jude and Teagan have been attending a private school in our neighborhood for years, we love this school but Teagan was accepted to an Art Magnet school that is a public school in our district. We are so excited for this new adventure for her but anxious for the changes too. School lunch is one of those big differences. At their current school, they do not have a funded school lunch program at all. So hearing this school district talk about surveys, demos and food shows got me super excited to venture into this world of public school lunches!
Question – you your schools do food shows and try to get student approved menus?
I left that session super pumped to learn more about how schools move towards the student approved menus and once we entered the Exhibit Hall I was floored…this is how they do it. Innovation in school nutrition right in front of my eyes! Oh and have you heard of Try It Tuesdays? Well, I am so implementing this in my home too. This school district and many others that I spoke with do this Try It Tuesdays, they come up with a new food item or side dish for the kids to try. BRILLIANT!! One group tried turnips and most of the kids LOVED them, but had never tried them before. What a great way to get kids thinking about food differently and going out of their comfort zone of pizza and chicken nuggets.
I wish I could explain the ginormous exhibit hall we walked into. Now keep in mind we were in Vegas and these hotels are giant so as you can imagine their convention halls are as well. For my first Exhibit Hall walk I partnered up with my local school district team, which was so cool considering this will be the first school year we will have a child in our public school district. I had a wonderful time connecting with this team and hearing all about what they focus on and will be sharing the information with you all in a later post.
One question that I asked my team was what their goals were when attending this conference every year. All of them talked about innovation. This industry is constantly changing and they, as a school nutrition team, have a lot of work to do. Let’s go back to that first mental picture you had of a school lunch lady….guys, this stereotype needs to die. These professionals that attend this conference are there for one reason…to provide nutrition to school kids – KIDS!
The Exhibit Hall is full of vendors that are also working their tails off to provide innovative products for the school nutrition programs. Every booth had a purpose at this conference. There was food of all kinds, prep tools for the kitchen, computer programs for menus and commercial cooking/serving equipment. Literally everything someone might need to provide meals for a school.
What I loved about this conference was seeing the partnerships build between the vendors and nutrition teams. There wasn’t any competition, it was simply a way for people to give their thoughts about their daily struggles and trying to find a nice solution. The yummy food samples weren’t bad either. HA!
I loved walking the floor finding all kinds of new and innovative food and recipe ideas that were solely geared towards kids. With two kids with totally different food preferences I could see the big challenges that schools have to deal with when planning their menus. But the vendors get that issue too. I especially loved the idea of baby carrots with a natural ranch seasoning that eliminates the need or want for ranch dressing. These guys are thinking! They want to provide kids with the best nutrition, provide them with healthy choices that they will hopefully take with them as they grow older but also give them foods and tastes they enjoy to eat.
When I first got my schedule for this project, it stated that lunch wasn’t provided…weird for this blogger that is used to blogging conferences serving 3 meals a day and snacks. BUT I have to be honest, with all the great food tastings I didn’t eat lunch OR dinner! STUFFED but it was good food! Not cafeteria food that people stick their noses up at. This was quality food with real ingredients. Something I am really excited to see as we move Teagan into the public school.
And for those worried about all of the food…I LOVED this sign! Once again, this group of professionals are thinking about the good of people. LOVE!!
I was on that Exhibit Floor for nearly 4 hours and I didn’t get to visit every booth. Seriously people, this conference is made for changes. People come to this conference ready to spend the money they can and make those school meals even better for the kids. Once I was done with my “floor time” I was able to attend one last session before heading to the airport. I attended the session, Reaching Kids on the Go – Food Delivery, Pre-ordering and Food Trucks. Sounds awesome right? Where were the food trucks when I was in school?
Once again, this session showed me that these professionals are focusing on the kids in every situation. How do we make sure more kids take the time to eat a healthy well balanced meal that is provided? You make it accessible and fun. There are schools that have revamped lunchtime to make sure it is a time that kids take the 15-20 minutes to enjoy their food and maybe learn a little about healthy choices as well.
My day at the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference went too fast. I honestly could have spent a few days there and still not felt like I got all the information. While this is a conference for nutrition professionals and school administration I am so happy I went. I feel like it is a great way for parents to understand that the folks working at the schools truly care and put HOURS of work and planning into those meals.
We often talk about parents being more involved in their schools, jumping into the world of school nutrition would be quite eye opening to many parents out there. Take time to learn about your school and what goes into their programs. My experience at this conference shows me that any of these professionals would gladly sit down with you and discuss their goals, needs and wants.
Since I only gave you cliff notes of this amazing conference and organization I urge you to check out the School Nutrition Association website for more information.