School Foodie Spotlight: Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

Dayle Hayes is a pivotal figure in school nutrition and has been a social media trailblazer.  Through her hit social media presence “School Meals that Rock”, Dayle Hayes has shown the country that school meals DO in fact rock.  In addition to being a much sought after national speaker, Dayle has been to every state in the country enjoying school meals and taking pictures of those meals to share on her social media pages.  She is a tireless advocate for child nutrition and has had a huge impact on public perception of school meals.

In the video interview below, she shares with us a great school meal she recently enjoyed in Bartow County, Georgia as well as some trends that she predicts will be the next big thing in school nutrition and some great insights on what Farm to School has done for school meals, farmers and communities.  Check out the full interview by clicking on the school lunch tray below:

Broccoli Salad Recipe:


Broccoli Salad Recipe 100 servingsBartow Broccoli Salad

Want to learn more about all the awesome meals served in Bartow County Georgia?  Click here to check out their awesome Facebook page!

SNA ANC FOMO (but only a little because I know what Vegas is like in July)

I’ve attend the School Nutrition Association Annual National Conference (ANC) several times and always enjoyed the opportunity to learn and network with fellow School Nutrition peers.  This year I won’t be attending and I have a little bit of FOMO (fear of missing out) that is quite manageable when I think about how hot it will be.  I’ve spent many a 110 degree summer day in Las Vegas and while my school nutrition and school garden peeps in that hot part of the desert of some of my favorites, it’s just too hot for me.

Meet your new #ANC best friend, ice water. Photo Credit

For those of you who work in kitchens, you know when you swing open the door of a hot convection oven and the heat blasts you in the face and curls your eyelashes back?  That’s how it feels when you step off the plane in Las Vegas in summer.

But, ANC does present an amazing opportunity for learning and networking.  I’m so excited for all my fellow Nevadans that will be attending, this year will be the greatest number of Nevadans that have attended ANC in a long time!

If you are attending here are some of the presenters I’d be sure to not miss:

Image may contain: Stefanie Dove, stripes and closeupStefanie Dove, RD, SNS

Twitter: @StefanieDoveRDN


Stefanie is the content creator and social media mastermind behind Loudoun Public Schools and has done an amazing job showing the world how great school food can be through social media.  She’ll be presenting on how to market your program and how to use social media during three sessions, details here.   Stefanie is also the proud dog mom of a sweetie pie pitbull so of course she gets first billing!

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, closeupChef Brenda, RDN


Chef Brenda is a Registered Dietitian and has played many roles in school meals programs, from conducting administrative reviews to creating awesome recipes for school nutrition cookbooks like Idaho Department of Education’s amazing series found here.  She’ll be doing a pre-conference session and a cooking demo that takes place on Monday, July 9 at 2:15 PM – 3:15 PM in the Oceanside B, Level 2.

Chef Cyndie



Chef Cyndie is sort of like the school nutrition chef’s version of Martha Stewart.  She’s been around from the start, she’s super chill and she knows all the tricks.  She pretty much invented school chefs, her and her team conduct amazing culinary skills workshops and she is pretty darn funny.  I don’t have details on any sessions or demos she is participating in but I’m sure you can find her or her team members doing culinary demos at a variety of time slots.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, closeupDonna Martin RDN



If Chef Cyndie is Martha Stewart, Donna is Michelle Obama.  She’s the past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, long time school food service director of a high needs school district in Georgia and has really helped push school meals into a positive light.  I’ve never met her in person but admire her from afar. I don’t have details on any sessions she may be leading but her facebook suggests she will be there live and in person!

There will also be lots of great folks from the regulatory world like ICN and USDA, don’t forget to check out their booths and educational sessions.  The list of vendors I will miss catching up with is to long to start here but I would not miss what’s going at the Eggs in Schools or the Mushrooms in School booth.  I also hear Colyar has a big new fancy thing they’ll be rolling out, so go and introduce yourself to Matt Essner at the Colyar booth who is pretty much the nicest guy in school foodservice and he will tell you all about it!

On the social media front, the official hashtag looks to be #ANC18 so don’t forget to post some great pictures and use the hashtag so everyone else can join in!

Are you wondering why Dayle Hayes isn’t included and where she fits between Martha Stewart and Michelle Obama?  First, sadly she won’t be at ANC so you’ll have to catch her on her social media here and here.  Second, I’d put her somewhere between Annie Oakley and Amelia Earhart……



Why blog about school food?

Here’s a little bit about why I blog…

But, second to all that, I love food!

After a year of science major classes at my state land grant university I took off for Las Vegas to attend the University of Nevada Las Vegas as they had a Bachelor’s degree Culinary program.  I moved to Las Vegas in late August of 2001.  In the third week of school, the September 11th terrorist attack on New York City and the Pentagon took place, which hit Las Vegas very hard.  The airport was closed down for several days and at that time Las Vegas was pretty much solely dependent on tourism to support their economy.  A huge amount of lay-offs occurred immediately and it was impossible to get a job as a 19 year old with little job experience.  I was able to get a job on campus washing dishes for a few hours a week and was lucky to have had the work.  After a tough semester in a tough town, I was accepted into Walt Disney World’s internship program and was able to work as a cook at one of their “flagship” restaurants, which was an amazing experience and taught me a lot about food.  They had a menu that changed weekly, a full time staff person who was charged solely with sourcing the best ingredients money could buy and a very liberal policy on staff meals.  I ate so much amazing food!

Image result for the california grill
The California Grill at Walt Disney World–Panoramic views plus an exhibition kitchen.  A great learning experience and I ate so, so many yummy things while hiding in a corner of the back production kitchen.  Photo Credit

While in Orlando I applied and was accepted to the Culinary Institute of America, got the first tuition bill and realized I need to go back home and take advantage of my very cost effective state university.  There were so many zeros in that first tuition bill and fresh off a minimum wage part time dishwasher gig, I just couldn’t commit to the debt.

So I went back to University of Nevada, Reno and after taking an introductory nutrition class realized that it was a great intersection between cooking and science.  After finishing my Bachelor’s of Science in Nutrition my advisor suggested I go to graduate school, which was probably the single best piece of professional advice anyone has ever given me.  After their Food Science Department rejected me, the Food and Nutrition Department at Purdue University accepted me into their program which was truly amazing experience.  Their demands of students are very high and since they only take as many graduate students as they can support through teaching of research assistantships, I received a small living stipend and they cover all your tuition.  I was able to serve as a teaching assistant for Barb Mayfield, who taught me so much about communication, speaking in front of an audience and how to craft your message.  I was also able to serve as a research assistant for Dr. Mario Ferruzzi who really pushed me to think critically and work hard to produce something worth publishing.  I am so grateful for the experience I had there and really encourage anyone thinking about graduate school to pursue a full time, on-campus program.  You get fully immersed in the experience, you have no time for anything other than expanding your own mind and you’ll be surrounded by people who push you to raise yourself beyond your own expectations.  I fondly refer to it as when I “did hard time in the Midwest”.

This could be Indiana, but it looks a little hilly…. Photo Credit

Upon graduating, I competed an internship through the University of Nevada, Reno and passed my Registered Dietitian exam right away.  I started feverishly applying to jobs, thinking I would get the first job I applied to.  I had a Masters degree from a top program, I’d published my research in decent journal and I had a ton of culinary experience.  Since this was 2009 and about the worst job market since the depression, I realized after about 80 job applications how wrong I was.  At that time, there were folks with my education and credentials AND a ton of relevant job experience that couldn’t find a job.  It was a very humbling experience.

I was lucky to find a job in Seattle managing a meal program at a preschool that participated in the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).  It was great fun–creating menus, preparing food for preschoolers and working with parents struggling to figure out what to feed toddlers that just learned the word “No!”.  The preschool was in Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle and within the same building I could get fresh produce and seafood to feed the kids.  The school had a strong anti-bias curriculum and put a lot of time and effort into training staff on recognizing our own bias and privilege, something that we could all use more of.  About a 1/3 of the kids were either current foster kids or adopted out of foster care, often by same sex couples.  Those parents’ dedication to nurturing kids who had suffered from abuse or neglect gives me hope for this crazy world and taught me a lot about just how wrong people are who don’t think same sex couples should be able to adopt.

Was working here fun? Yes, yes it was! Photo Credit

Once the job market picked back up, I was able to get a job working as a contractor for the state of Nevada and then with the Nevada Department of Education working as a “Consultant”, which was a little funny since I started that job knowing almost nothing about school nutrition. Our state Child Nutrition Director at the time, Donnell Barton, told me early in that job that “Nevada is state that is smaller enough to where one person can make a difference” and I was hooked.

I used to joke about spending my first two years of that job wanting to hide under my desk, sucking my thumb while in the fetal position but it’s not that far from the truth!  The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act was signed into law in December of 2010, about a month a half after I started working in Child Nutrition.  I filled a position that had been empty for about a year and was the only applicant, sadly a common scenario for these types of positions.  On my first day they got my travel arranged to go on several work trips including the USDA State Directors conference where USDA first unfolded the basic elements of getting people to transition to the new meal patterns put into place by the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. It was eye opening and volatile to say the least, lots of unanswered questions at that time and high anxiety over the fate of the National School Lunch Program.  State Agency Directors are some of the smartest, strongest, take no shit group of women I have ever met.  They have some of the toughest jobs you can imagine and are stuck in the tight space school districts in their state and the federal government. They get the joy of wrestling with local, state and federal politics while sorely understaffed and underfunded.

You’ve spent time as a professional wrestler and you are an idiot savant on federal regulations?  Have I got a job at a state agency for you…….Photo Credit

But through those crazy times I got see just how important school meal programs are and realized I was in the good company of women of who believe in the power of staying strong and doing right by the kids in your community, even when you feel like curling up in the fetal position.  School meals are what our neediest kids rely on so they are well fueled and ready to learn.  Going to schools in the highest poverty areas of my state and sitting down with kids to eat a lunch was powerful experience and one that I would encourage everyone to participate in.  Every kid in America deserves a life free of hunger and school meals programs play a critical role in that future.

So why blog about school meals?  To bring light to this important program, highlight its success and maybe, just maybe convince a few people that school meals really are the most important part of the school day.

Are statewide school meal charge policies the wave of the future?

The challenges of school districts handling school meal charge policies is one that is not new.  I’ve previously covered this issue here, here and here and like many of those in the field have only really been able to conclude that this is an issue that is tough one, and there really aren’t any easy answers.  Many school districts, including my own home district, changed a long standing policy of not allowing meal charges once the policy was put out in the public spotlight. Once they allowed unlimited meal charges, the amount of debt skyrocketed.

The unpaid meal charges issue, in pictorial review.  Photo credit

However, there have recently been a few states that have either come out with a statewide meal charge policy or, in the case of Washington State, had a bill signed into law that prohibits certain practices like giving kids with meal debt an alternative meal.  Here is a quick summary of the states that now have a statewide meal charge policy or legislation in place:

New Mexico—the first state to pass such a bill, full text of the bill  has the same name as Washington’s bill and is very similar, but doesn’t require the extra steps of a school administrator contacting the parent.  It does prohibit making children do chores to may off meal debt and prohibits activities like stamping kids hands or throwing away meals already served due to lack of ability to pay.  It also includes some language around beefing up efforts to get applications completed and submitted for free meal benefits like assistance for those with low literacy levels.

Just your typically back to school paperwork packet.  Photo credit

Washington—the full text of the bill can be found here, but in summary the bill includes language to beef up efforts to get kids certified for meal benefits if they are eligible and prevents things like stamping kids hands if they owe money, or making kids do chores to work off a balance. It includes the bulk of the language in the New Mexico bill but also requires these steps to be taken once a student has charged five or more meals:

  1. Determine if the child is eligible for meal benefits
  2. Contact the household and make no fewer than two attempts to get them to fill out an application
  3. Have a Principal, Assistant Principal or school counselor contact the household and offer assistance with filling out an application, determine if there are any household issues preventing the student from having sufficient funds for school meals and offer any appropriate assistance.

Schools are prohibited from not serving a meal due to lack of funds or a negative balance for 30 days unless the student is found to be ineligible for free or reduced price meals. The bill also includes language in support of the Community Eligibility Provision and requires a plan to be put together to further explore, and report on, CEP implementation.

Texas—this very contentious bill was signed into law last June and is pretty brief, it allows for a grace period once a student starts to run a negative balance to allow more time for the issue to get sorted out.  The full text of the bill can be view here, the section on school meal debt is about 2/3rds of the way down from the top of the bill.

(Proposed but not introduced as legislation) New York—This proposal was pretty sweeping, it included breakfast after the bell, expansion of farm to school programs and food pantries on college campuses.  It didn’t get very far but it is a very progressive approach toward decreasing hunger and strengthening school meal programs.

(Introduced but not passed) Minnesota—This bill was introduced in both the state Senate and House in March of 2018 but never made it past that.  It largely reiterates the federal requirements to have a written policy on how meal debts will be handled but also proposed some changes to how state supplemental funds for school meals could be used to handle unpaid meal debts and prohibited meals already served from being throw away due to lack of ability to pay.

All in all, this a pretty wide variety of approaches and changes that ultimately were made.  Do you know if any efforts are building in your state to pursue a state level policy or legislation on school meal debt?

Time to get planting, er… planning!

While USDA just released the 2018 Farm to School Grant awardees, now is a great time to start thinking about a grant application for next year.  Do I sound like a crazy person to suggest that? Maybe. Do I sound like a crazy person and have also helped write two USDA Farm to School Grants that were awarded? Definitely!

My kind of plant. Hardy and can withstand neglect.  Photo credit

First, think about your timeline.  The USDA Farm to School Grant application is released in the fall, typically around the beginning of October.  Once the application is posted it’s open for 60 days before applications are due.  This sounds like a lot of time but it can really fly by if you need to get meetings together with involved stakeholders, school business office or fiscal staff and to allow for plenty of time for distributing drafts for proofreading or outside approvals if needed.

Second, review the types of activities that are typically funded.  You can view a list of previous awards and grant reports here.  This will give you a good idea of what types of activities are typically funded.  You’ll find it’s a pretty wide range but you want to be sure the activities you are looking at to include in the grant are 1) allowable expenses and 2) inline with the types of activities that are funded.  Even if you have the greatest idea in the world, if it’s not an allowable item it will not get funded.

Grant tip #1–don’t wait until the last minute. Photo Credit

Next, think about what kinds of information you can start gathering now and if possible, start to discuss the grant with your leadership and key grant partners.  If you can start the discussion of what types of activities to pursue and what kind of costs will go along with that, you’ll be well positioned to have a stellar application ready to go well before the deadline.

Here is a nice cheat sheet on the basic details of the grant if you need something like this to share with your school district leadership, school board or non-profit board of directors:

In general, the USDA Farm to School website is a great starting point for resources.  I’m also happy to answer any questions based on my experience, just leave me a comment below!

2018 USDA Farm to School Grantees Announced!

Farm to school is just about the greatest thing ever–it brings fresh, local foods in the school cafeteria, opens up new markets to local and oftentimes smaller farmers and supports school gardens.  But it doesn’t happen by virtue of a magical farm to school fairy.  It takes grit, a positive attitude about changing the way kids think about food and it also takes green stuff (money!).

How To Grow a Giant Cabbage
So it’s not in a school garden, but you get the idea! Photo credit

One of the biggest funders of Farm to School efforts is USDA, through their Farm to School grant program.  These grants have made some really amazing projects possible and resulted in some outstanding resources being developed that have broad applicability for a whole range of topics from procurement to how to keep school gardens going over the summer.

Washington F2S Guide
Beautiful resources like this are produced with funds from the USDA Farm to School Grant.  Click here for more info on this guide

Late last week USDA announced this year’s winners, which include these amazing projects, among many others!  A super big (cabbage growing in the Alaska summer supersized) congrats to all the awardees.  Below are some highlights, just to show a small slice of the amazing work being funded.

Detroit Public Schools Community District

Detroit, Michigan

Grant Type: Implementation; $100,000

Detroit Public Schools Community District (DPSCD) will provide farm to school activities that support the development of healthy eating habits for DPSCD children by creating a healthy food culture at the district and individual school levels. The project will work towards this goal by strengthening two farm to school activities, the Detroit School Garden Collaborative and Integrating Culinary Arts Students in School Lunch Processing.

Hawaii State Department of Education

Honolulu, Hawaii

Grant Type: Implementation; $100,000

‘Aina Pono, Hawai’i State Department of Education’s (HIDOE) farm to school pilot initiative, will bring more healthy, nutritious, fresh, and local food to school cafeterias in Hawai’i. HIDOE cafeteria staff will be trained to prepare locally sourced, scratch-cooked meals and local farmers, ranchers, and distributors will be trained on how to contract with HIDOE. This project will develop the collaborative networks required to execute a statewide farm to school initiative.

A quick video overview of their program:

Montana Department of Agriculture

Helena, Montana

Grant Type: Implementation; $99,980

The Montana Department of Agriculture will increase the procurement and distribution of local food in K-12 schools in Montana. The Montana Farm to Leadership Team has identified three geographically significant schools that are in the early stages of implementing farm to school but have limited access to local foods. By coordinating with state-level farm to school partners, including supply-chain stakeholders, and bringing together local community teams in each of the target school communities, this project will create a plan that will impact the entire State.

A beautiful recap of some of the Beef to School efforts in Montana:

Do I watch the video above when I need to revive my faith in humanity?  Yes, because it is so beautiful!  Try not to tear up when you watch it, I dare you……