District Honored by USDA

Pat Farris’ new home focuses on nutrition education.

FoodService Director - Pat Farris - St. Tammany Parish Public Schools - USDA COVINGTON, La.—In 36,500-student St. Tammany Parish Public Schools, Pat Farris has found a new home. After 16 years as director of school food services for the Archdiocese of New Orleans—during which time she won an IFMA Silver Plate Award—Farris joined St. Tammany as supervisor of school food services. Farris took over from another Silver Plate winner, Sylvia Dunn, who retired this summer after 28 years with the district.

“This is a wonderful opportunity,” Farris said about the move. “After 30 years of being in school foodservice, to be able to be this excited about being able to come to work every day is really rewarding.”

Getting Gold: One rewarding experience came in July, when 25 of the district’s 55 schools were given the HealthierUS School Challenge Program’s highest level of recognition, the Gold Award of Distinction. According to the USDA, which oversees the program, only 74 schools received the Gold Level of Distinction this year, and St. Tammany is the district with the most schools to receive the honor.

In September, first lady Michelle Obama visited Brock Elementary, one of the schools that received the award. “This is an incredible accomplishment,” Obama said during a ceremony awarding the foodservice operation with $50,000. “You have been able to rebuild this school and recover from one of the greatest devastations that this country has ever seen [with Hurricane Katrina]. If you can provide such an outstanding nutritional program here, then all the other schools in our nation should be able to do it.”

FoodService Director - Pat Farris - St. Tammany Parish Public Schools - USDA Farris said the award money will go to purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables.

To receive the Gold Level of Distinction, a school must meet certain criteria, including an average daily lunch participation of 70% or more. In addition, competitive foods must be eliminated or meet strict nutritional criteria and schools must offer at least one serving of whole grains each day and have 150 minutes of physical education a week.

The department serves around 25,000 lunches and 9,000 breakfasts each day.  About 45% of the students  qualify for free or reduced-priced meals.

“We don’t use many processed foods,” Farris said. “We make our own gumbo, but [we use] an oilless roux. We don’t do many baked sweet desserts. Once a month we have brownies and oatmeal cookies, but they are made with 100% whole wheat. We don’t have any à la carte sales. It’s all about nutrition and getting the students to eat the
right things.”

Nutrition education: When Farris started in February, Dunn agreed to remain in the district through the end of the school year to ensure a smooth transition. “That’s what is so refreshing about being in St. Tammany Parish; you have great administrative support,” Farris said.

Farris said that because the program was successful, she didn’t want to make too many drastic changes. “When you have 75% of the students eating your school lunch, you really don’t want to change something that works so well. We plan on continuing the program and reinforcing and building on the strong foundation Sylvia has built here.”

One of the programs Dunn started that Farris is continuing is the Go-Glow-Grow nutrition program. In the program, foodservice mangers visit kindergarten and first grade classrooms to do taste tests of fruits and vegetables and to teach students about the health benefits of these foods. Items that are “Go” are carbohydrates; “Grow” items are proteins; and “Glow” items are fruits and vegetables. The program is carried into the cafeteria with self-service fresh fruit and vegetable bars. The bars also have beans and whole-grain items.

“This program turns something that is very complex into a simple concept,” Farris said. “Because they are serving it themselves they do a much better job of eating it.”