By: Jeri Mobley, MPH
Schools are an integral part of childhood. Educators teach students essential life skills, like reading, writing, math and science, and every day, those same students visit the school cafeteria to get nourishment to sustain their bodies and fuel them for learning. School foodservice professionals prepare balanced meals for millions of students each day, and their commitment to ensuring children are nourished is evident in the warm smiles they share with students as they provide the food that fills their bellies.
We are living in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how school food service prepare and nourish students, but they still go to work every day to ensure families that rely on school meal service to feed their children can continue to access healthy foods at no cost. They truly are essential employees, and on May 1st, School Lunch Hero Day, it is important to celebrate all school lunch heroes for their unwavering commitment to student health through nutrition.
Since 2013, the first Friday of May has been dedicated School Lunch Hero Day. A day to recognize school foodservice professionals for their devoted efforts to nourishing students. They are heroes and deserve special acknowledgement for the work they do year-round.
School foodservice professionals prepare and serve meals offered through the federally-funded School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program, Monday through Friday. Every day in California, school foodservice professionals prepare and serve over 1.6 million children breakfast and over 2.9 million students’ lunch. Typically served free to students or provided at reduced rates, these meals provide vital nutrition to students to ensure they grow optimally and fueled to learn. In fact, school meals contribute significantly to students’ daily caloric intake and have been proven to boost academic performance as well as improve classroom behavior.
When the school year ends, their work continues. Many foodservice professionals continue to prepare and serve children school meals as part of the federally-funded Summer Food Service Program, a safety net in place to ensure children, especially those who experience food insecurity, can continue to access healthy foods like milk, fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains while schools are out. Summer meals are offered at select school sites and non-traditional locations like parks, community centers and libraries. Thanks to school foodservice heroes, over 6.3 million free meals were served in California last summer.
As a Dairy Council of California nutrition professional, I have witnessed firsthand the many roles foodservice professionals play and honored to share the valuable contributions they make to students, schools and the community. School foodservice professionals work tirelessly and they do it with a smile. They don’t just prepare and serve meals, they nourish children. They learn children’s names, their food allergies and intolerances, food preferences and know the importance of adhering to strict nutrition guidelines. They are creative, enhance the cafeteria atmosphere, develop recipes based on students’ input, set up and tear down meal service and are enthusiastic about serving healthy school meals. Simply put, they care deeply for the well-being of all children, and that dedication does not go unnoticed. School foodservice professionals truly are unsung heroes.
To school foodservice heroes: thank you. It is because of you that every day, millions of children are able to access the school meals they need to grow healthfully, which is even more important during these challenging times. By working together, we can support and improve the health of children and communities through nutrition.
Wondering how you can show your appreciation? You can create a poster including a thoughtful message, share your ‘thanks’ on social media, or create a ‘thank-you’ sign to display on your car if you’re picking up meals for your children.
Kristal Shelden, RDN answers the question, " What’s in the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans and why do they matter?"
School meals have always been a critical access point for the nutritious foods that children need to grow and learn.