Jessica Shelly: Passionate producer

Jessica Shelly has added salad bars to Cincinnati Public Schools.

At a Glance

  • 34,000 students
  • 75% eligible for free and reduced meals
  • 50,000 meals served per day
  • 50% breakfast participation
  • 74% lunch participation 

Accomplishments

Jessica Shelly has transformed food services at Cincinnati Public Schools by:

  • Adding salad bars to every school, which has increased produce consumption and enabled the district to easily meet new meal pattern regs
  • Focusing on customer service to create a bond with students
  • Creating a marketing program and implementing a revamped menu to increase participation at the high schools
  • Amassing a $2.7 million profit during the first year of the USDA’s new meal requirements  

During a trying time for school foodservice, Jessica Shelly is nothing but excited, especially about the challenges. Shelly is the food services director at Cincinnati Public Schools, which in 1898 became the first large school district to offer meals through the National School Lunch program.

“We’re really making an impact. It’s palpable,” Shelly says. “You can see it in the kids when they come through the line and say, ‘I’m so glad you have radishes back on the salad bar today.’ That’s the kind of shift that we’re making here. It’s super exciting to be part of the ride.”

“Her energy and excitement are her greatest qualities,” says Eric Zacarias, operations manager for the food services department. “She has a real passion for what she does. She shares it with the staff and gets them energized for change.”

Salad bars

There has been a lot of change since Shelly became director in 2010. One of those changes, and the thing Shelly says she is most proud of, is getting a salad bar in every school at no cost to the district. Through grants, partnerships and donations, each of the district’s 55 schools now has a salad bar.

“When salad bars were first being talked about [they were] being seen in urban, affluent school districts,” Shelly says. “We were able to implement one in every school in one year. That’s been a real wonderful way for us to introduce our kids to a variety of fresh vegetables every day.” 

Students at every level are offered an entrée, hot vegetable, two fruits, milk and a trip through the salad bar for lunch. 

“When the new [USDA] regulations came out, it was so easy for us to implement [them] because we had every vegetable subgroup offered every day,” Shelly recalls. “We were able to keep so many of the hot vegetables our kids love on our menus without having to sacrifice them to make sure we met all the different vegetable subgroups.” 

The salad bars have been so successful that Shelly attributes them to an increase in participation. 

Teaching nutrition

Shelly doesn’t buy into the notion that students won’t try new fruits and vegetables. “I don’t think the kids don’t take [new fruits and vegetables] if they haven’t tried them,” she says. “I think they don’t take them if we haven’t encouraged them.” 

That sentiment is behind another one of Shelly’s new initiatives: Mentoring Mondays. If a faculty member eats a school lunch at the table with students, Shelly gives the adult that meal for free. The goal is to get students to see their role models eating a healthy school meal, which will encourage them to do the same. “Studies have shown that in urban school districts the biggest role model in a kid’s life is not the parent, it’s the teacher,” Shelly says. “We were looking for that influence and guidance that works so well in the classroom to work in the lunchroom.” 

To further that educational experience, Shelly focused on customer service training. “I don’t call my workers lunchroom ladies. I call them lunchroom teachers,” she notes. “I think it’s infectious when your staff is proud of what they do and is confident in what they do. The kids then see how much pride they take in the service of their food. They realize that [the cafeteria workers] are doing this for them. It’s a connection.”

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

Hutchinson Middle School in Hutchinson, Minn., invited students to help serve lunch in an effort to encourage their peers to try new, healthy recipes, Hutchinson Leader reports.

The students, who are part of the school’s Students in Action Club, created posters to advertise the new meal and helped serve it to students during lunch.

The school’s kitchen manager, Janet Schmidt, said that around 37 more students than normal got in line to try the meal. The school plans to have students from the club help serve lunch once every month.

Read the full story via Hutchinson...

Industry News & Opinion

In an effort to trim costs, the country’s largest senior living company laid off 100 staff members, including regional dining services directors, reports Senior Housing News .

Not all employees who were laid off will technically leave the company, Senior Housing News notes, as some will be reassigned to alternative positions. Brookdale recently posted third-quarter earnings that fell short of analysts’ expectations and that the company’s CEO called disappointing.

At the end of last year, the Brentwood, Tenn.-based company employed 53,000 workers on a full-time basis, and...

Industry News & Opinion

After receiving mixed feedback from parents, Randolph County School District in Asheboro, N.C., is inviting parents to tour the district’s kitchens and cafeterias to see how the food for school meals is made, Fox 8 reports.

School officials say that the tours, part of the district’s first Food Day for Parents, will give parents an inside look at the upkeep of the facilities, as well as enable them to sample some food and see how the district is upholding USDA guidelines.

Officials also hope that the tours will provide them with more guidance on what parents and students are...

Industry News & Opinion

After fielding complaints from parents and students, Sodexo is launching an initiative to improve dining services at Emerson College in Boston, the Berkeley Beacon reports.

The initiative will kick off this month with an event dubbed Fresh Start, marking the start of several moves aimed at improving service—including the hiring of a new executive chef, the addition of a second sous chef, and retraining current staff on food preparation and presentation.

Members of the Emerson community will also be able to share feedback through the introduction of monthly forums, as well...

FSD Resources