Dobson — They are among the unsung heroes of common memories of school. Surry County will honor school cafeteria professionals the week of May 7-11.
According to Director of Child Nutrition Services Sherri Parks, preparing healthy school meals, promoting good nutrition habits and offering a friendly greeting are all in a day’s work for the 115 school nutrition employees in the Surry County School district.
The non-profit School Nutrition Association celebrates this professional commitment with School Nutrition Employee Week. The week is set aside as a opportunity for parents, students, school staff and communities to thank those who provide healthy meals to 32 million of America’s students each school day.
Information supplied by Parks indicates the Surry County school nutrition professionals serve more than 1,309,000 lunches each school year. The SCS cafeterias maintain a 101.1 average on health inspection ratings throughout the year. These inspections are carried out by local Surry County sanitarians who also inspect all restaurants in the area.
Parks explained that school nutrition employees must balance many roles and follow numerous federal, state and local regulations to ensure safe and healthy meals are available in schools. She said cafeteria professionals are trained sanitation and food safety experts and must manage financially self-sufficient programs despite limited funds to prepare and serve each meal.
Parks added that this year, school nutrition employees take on a new responsibility. In January, the federal government finalized new nutrition standards for school meals along with numerous other rules and regulations as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
School meals must meet these new requirements starting in the 2012-2013 school year, but school nutrition professionals have already been working toward the new goals by mixing up the menu, offering a wider variety of fresh produce and getting students excited about trying new, healthier meals in the cafeteria.
“At least 73 new rules have been passed as a part of this act,” said Parks. “We are still receiving the specifics of the law.” Parks said local officials are trying to interpret and implement the new laws. She added that some food bids have already been accepted and other bidding will occur in May. The staff also is revising its menus and recipes to comply with the Hunger-Free Kids Act.
Parks estimated that April 30 would be the first time the system’s management team will be presented with the complete text of the act in a meeting scheduled to be held at Meadowview Middle School.
“We are concerned but in a good position to implement the guidelines,” said Parks. Some of the guidelines, such as lower sodium levels, will be phased in over a three-year period but school nutrition staffs across the state have been concerned with the availability of specific whole grain or whole wheat products.
The importance and nutritional value of school meals are well documented. For many children, school lunch is the most important and nutrient-rich meal of their day. According to Parks, every school lunch offers students their choice of skim or one percent milk, a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and a protein. School meals must also meet strict limits for fat, saturated fat and portion size.
The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is a national, non-profit professional organization representing 55,000 school nutrition professionals across the country. it was founded in 1946 and its members are dedicated to making healthy school meals and nutrition education available to all students. More information can be obtained at www.TrayTalk.org.
David Broyles can be reached at email@example.com or 719-1952.