About School Meals That Rock, for Dayle Hayes

Hayes shares her observations from visiting school meal programs.

Dayle Hayes, R.D., president of Nutrition for the Future, Inc. in Billings, Mont., started a Facebook page in response to Mrs. Q’s Fed Up With School Lunch blog. The page, School Meals That Rock, is Hayes’ way to show people the positive side of school meal programs. Dayle Hayes, R.D., president of Nutrition for the Future, Inc. in Billings, Mont., started a Facebook page in response to Mrs. Q’s Fed Up With School Lunch blog. The page, School Meals That Rock, is Hayes’ way to show people the positive side of school meal programs.

Q. Why did you start the School Meals That Rock Facebook page?

I started it almost 10 months ago. I started in reaction to Mrs. Q’s blog, Fed Up With School Lunch. What struck me as I was looking at her blog was that it presented compellingly negative pictures of school meals. What people really needed to have as an alternative were compellingly positive photos of school meals. Although I’ve never eaten at Sarah Wu’s school, so I can’t comment directly, it looks as though there were some unfortunately negative things going on in her school. I feel we’ve reached the tipping point in school meals and people really need to have those images of what the amazing breakfasts and lunches that people are making look like. I’ve been working in the industry for a long time and I feel that school nutrition directors are often the most vilified and least recognized of foodservice professionals. If people aren’t recognizing what you’re doing, you only have yourself to blame. The most important thing is that school nutrition professionals take it upon themselves to make [the recognition] happen and they haven’t been necessarily trained to do or are very proficient at it. That’s another reason to have School Meals That Rock to say this is how easy it is. Take some pictures and talk to people and show them what you are doing. What Mrs. Q did was not that complicated. If we want people to know the other side of the story then we have to take responsibility for doing that themselves. Facebook seemed easy to do. I have a blog, nutritionforfuture.org. The blog is more substantive, with more words and pictures, and I really felt like in this case it was the photos [that were really important to show]. Facebook is an easy way to put up a lot of photos and have a lot of people look at them.

Q. Who is your target audience?

My target audience is anyone who cares about school meals. I know that the people who like School Meals That Rock are school nutrition professionals, many of them are registered dietitians who are interested in what’s going on in school meals, and I know a lot of the other folks are consumers—moms, dads and people who care about school meals. There are a lot of people who are very interested in what the good news is and what are the things that people are doing. For example, it’s Farm to School Month, so I’ve really been focusing in on pictures of farm-to-school products. Today I’m talking about potatoes because it’s a hot topic in school meals, but also because potatoes are, in many states, the fourth most common item that is locally sourced for farm to school. A lot of what I do is to take advantage of what’s hot in the news. During National School Lunch Week I did a “district of the day” and posted a number of photos. Generally I try to post at least one thing a day. Other folks are more than welcome to post photos. Last week someone in Louisville, Ky., posted a photo of the mayor helping to serve school meals. It flows with the season. During the summer I featured summer feeding programs.

Q. How do you get the content for the page?

I do a lot of traveling for work and I try to visit schools and take pictures myself. I also rely on folks to send me pictures. For school lunch week I had a flood of photos. It happened to be around the same time that Mrs. Wu’s book came out and people were eager to say, “Wait a second. Those are photos of one school.” When we’re talking about this issue in the media I think we need to have a much bigger picture and really take a look at what are the trends. The trends in school meals are so incredibly positive and that’s what I try to showcase in photos.

Q. What are the trends you’re seeing in school meals?

I think the two strongest trends that I’m seeing, both of which are incredibly positive, are No. 1, the whole issue of scratch cooking or homestyle cooking, the move to doing more freshly prepared foods. That may be in a kitchen in a school or it could be large, central kitchen, like in Cyprus-Fairbanks right outside Houston. In their central kitchen they make 80,000 whole-wheat rolls and send them out. To me that’s also part of this trend of trying to make sure that foods are as freshly prepared as possible for students. The second trend is schools that are trying to purchase more foods locally, doing more farm to school. People think fruits and vegetables and that’s wonderful, but also schools are looking for milk that comes from a local dairy or local sources of meats, cheese and eggs. I believe that people in school meals are looking to support local food systems as much as possible.

Q. What are a few of the innovative school meals you’ve seen in the last six months?

There is a director in Maplewood Heights, Mo., which I think is just outside of St. Louis, and his name is Robert Rusan. In his school kitchen he made homemade mozzarella. I was super impressed. I think that’s a great example. Another is a school nutrition director, Jason Moore in a school called Gallatin Gateway in Montana. I went to visit and take pictures and I was sitting with a group of students and I asked them, “what’s your favorite school meal.” It’s a typical question to ask a bunch of kids. In this case three of them said split pea soup and I nearly fell off the bench. I started talking to the chef and he’s making all his soups from scratch. They show the kids how they are made and they allowed them to taste them. I think that’s helping kids to participate in school meals. Beyond that, what I see is a tremendous creativity in responding to what kids are eating in the outside world. There are schools that are serving sushi, wraps, stir-fries and ethnic meals. Some school systems in Highline south of Tacoma, they are responding to the wide variety of ethnicities in their district. You see a tremendous amount of creativity in those meals. One other example is pizza. I think you say pizza in school meals and people picture whatever was the worst pizza they ever ordered for themselves, overdone with four kinds of cheese and 12 kinds of meat. What’s going on in pizza in a lot of schools, Chico, Calif., being one, is they have purchased their own pizza oven. There is a director on Long Island that not only purchased his own pizza oven, but also then hired away the best pizza maker in town to come work at the school. Those pizzas are getting more whole grains into the crust, getting more vegetables on the pizza, using commodities for pizza. I think we really have to celebrate these things. School Meals That Rock, to me, is celebrating the innovation, creativity, the commitment that school nutrition people do every day across the country.

See the School Meals That Rock Facebook page here.