Eileen Staples: Staying Ahead

Eileen Staples didn't wait for new meal regs to kick in, she made adjustments on her own.

At a Glance

  • 71,000 enrollment
  • 100 serving locations
  • 71,500 meals served each day
  • 750 foodservice employees

Accomplishments

EILEEN STAPLES has renovated foodservice at GREENVILLE COUNTY SCHOOLS by:

  • DEVELOPING Culinary Creations, a dining program that improves the quality and healthfulness of meals. A chef was hired to lead the program, in which more items are cooked from scratch
  • FOCUSING on training, particularly food safety, to ensure the department’s goals are consistent throughout this large district
  • RENOVATING or rebuilding 60 school cafeterias, which led to increased participation
  • TAKING over school stores to sell students food items and school supplies 

In an era when school foodservice is going through perhaps its biggest changes, it’s a benefit to have a leader like Eileen Staples in charge. Staples, the director of food and nutrition services at Greenville County Schools, in South Carolina, sensed an overhaul of child nutrition programs was forthcoming and, instead of waiting to see what new requirements were to come, she made aggressive adjustments to get out in front.

“I’m not one to sit back and wait,” Staples says, a sentiment echoed by Joe Urban, program coordinator. “Eileen is an incredible leader. She has great foresight. We’re always two or three steps ahead because of her leadership.”

That stay-ahead mentality is best seen in the development three years ago of Culinary Creations, a healthy dining program. “We knew we were going to get new regs with the USDA, but there was really a need for us to get ahead of the program and try to implement a healthier feeding program, beginning with the elementary schools,” Staples recalls.

Teaching healthy habits

To kick off the program, Staples hired a chef, Ron Jones, as culinary specialist. Jones spent an entire year developing healthier recipes, such as black bean cheeseburgers, vegetable frittatas, enchilada pie and housemade soups. Under the Culinary Creations program, students have three entrée choices each day: vegetarian, hot protein or the vegetation station (salad bar).

Jones then implemented the program at A.J. Whittenberg elementary school. Whittenberg was selected as the pilot site because administrators at this school decided that they would include health and nutrition as a part of the curriculum.

The school joined CATCH (Coordinated Approach To Child Health), a national holistic child wellness program that targets multiple aspects of the school environment, including child nutrition, classroom education and physical education. Students and staff at Whittenberg were trained in the CATCH program, and the cafeteria lines employ the Go, Slow, Whoa! food labeling program. “There are no foods that are disallowed in the CATCH program, but the kids know that when they are eating a ‘whoa’ food they are not supposed to eat as much of that food,” Staples says.

Following the successful implementation of Culinary Creations at Whittenberg, the program was expanded to 10 additional elementary schools. As part of the expansion, principals, PE teachers and PTA members at each school agreed to sign a contract joining the CATCH program.

“We have one school [where] if they have a birthday celebration the kids are allowed to have a cupcake, but right after the kids go outside and walk on the track for 15 or 20 minutes,” Staples says. “There’s a real buy-in [to CATCH] as far as the PE and foodservice components.” 

Training for best practices

Staples knew that as the program expanded, she’d need to train her staff. “Because this program is so different from what we’ve done [by cooking more from scratch], we needed a partner,” she says. Staples turned to Greenville Technical College’s culinary institute, which created a curriculum for Staples’ staff. The summer before a school is added to Culinary Creations, staff spend one week at the college learning tools such as proper knife skills.

Because Culinary Creations is so different from what had always been done, some people in the district weren’t crazy about the idea. “I had one principal who was very apprehensive,” Staples recalls. “He was thinking, ‘I’ve got a school of 1,000 kids. How am I going to do this?’ It does take longer to serve them [in the program]. He showed up to the culinary training and watched for a couple of hours. I saw him later and he was a firm believer. It’s been a very positive experience for us.”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Two chefs at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., are trying to help solve the Mars food dilemma, myfoxspokane.com reports .

Just outside the school’s cafeteria, Executive Chef Timothy Grayson and his partner, Christine Logan-Travis, are trying their hand at growing tomatoes, oregano, basil and other plants in Martian Regolith Soil, the closest soil on Earth to that found on the fourth planet from the sun.

All of the plants in the Mars-inspired garden are intended for human consumption.

“It is a reality that at some point, if man goes to Mars, they will need to...

Industry News & Opinion

Access to fresh produce just got easier for students at the University of Virginia.

The Charlottesville, Va., university’s dining service has partnered with Greens to Grounds , a student-run nonprofit organization that delivers locally grown produce to students. Though students could previously purchase Greens to Grounds produce, they can now use a portion of their meal plans to do so, thecavalier.com reports .

Students can choose between a snack box or produce box, the ingredients in which usually require no cooking, and can place their orders online. The base boxes cost...

Industry News & Opinion

The Virginia Department of Health said it has traced a “cluster” of hepatitis A cases to frozen Egyptian strawberries used by Virginia units of a smoothie chain.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe voluntarily trashed the strawberries and switched to supplies from a different source immediately after being notified of the connection, the health department said in a statement issued Friday.

The department noted that it had traced earlier outbreaks of hepatitis A to strawberries imported from Egypt. But it warned that supplies may still be in the freezers of other foodservice operations...

Managing Your Business
business man smash computer

Foodservice directors spend a lot of time taking care of other people, whether it’s K-12 students who aren’t always eating enough at home, malnourished patients back for return visits or employees squabbling among themselves. That kind of pressure can weigh heavily—and come home from work. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America finds that 83% of men and 72% of women say stress at work carries over into their personal lives, and 50% call staff management their main culprit for workplace stress.

“Stress is very difficult in our world, and work-life balance is very much a...

FSD Resources