20 Most Influential: Dr. Janey Thornton, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Janey Thornton was was challenged with the Obama administration’s charge to make school meals healthier.

Dr. Janey Thornton
Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services,
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, D.C.

It’s hard to imagine a more dynamic time in child nutrition than the past three years, which corresponds to the start of Janey Thornton’s tenure with the USDA. Appointed by President Obama to the agency in 2009, Thornton was challenged with the administration’s charge to make school meals healthier. Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack clearly thought Thornton had the goods to effect change. After more than 25 years as school nutrition director for Hardin County Schools in Kentucky and serving as SNA’s president in 2006-2007, Thornton had the hands-on experience to provide the federal agency with the voice of the everyday child nutrition director. Something other directors were excited about.

“What a great time to have a leader like Janey as part of the USDA leadership,” says Helen Phillips, senior director of school nutrition at Norfolk Public Schools in Virginia and current president of SNA. “Janey brings knowledge and experience to her position that many others have not had. She leads by example and comes from the ranks. When school meals policy is being written, who better to have help than an intelligent, well-respected, business-minded former school nutrition director? Janey’s reasonable approach and strong support are so appreciated.”

Thornton has spent much of her time at the USDA tirelessly revamping the school meal requirements as specified under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, signed into law in 2010. But Thornton isn’t one to spend much time behind a desk. Her public-speaking schedule is daunting and she’s often found at schools praising them for their work achieving status in the HealthierUS School Challenge, a program that recognizes schools for healthy meals and physical activity for students.  


Foodservice Director has undertaken a bold initiative by identifying people who we believe are having the biggest impact on non-commercial foodservice. Our list may surprise you and should certainly intrigue you. Our honorees have backgrounds as varied as their personalities. They range from the father of the modern-day food truck to the wife of a sitting president. They include operators and suppliers, chefs and consultants, CEOs and civil servants. There are traditionalists and there are mavericks. Well-known names share space with hot newcomers. In all, 17 people, two groups of individuals and one institution compose the list. It’s time to meet FSD’s 20 Most Influential.