Supporting Food Service Personnel on a Path to Success

February 10, 2014

USDA proposes national professional standards for food service personnel.

School food workers face a daunting task every day: They’re expected to prepare a healthy, nutritious meal for students with limited dollars, facilities and time. Making sure that food service workers have the training and support to meet this challenge is critical to their success — and our kids’ health and academic achievement.

Our work in Chicago recognizes the importance of professional development for food service staff. In our report, “Pathways to Excellence in School Nutrition,” we identified professional development as vital to the overall success of school nutrition programs. Professional development for food service staff — those on the front line preparing and serving school meals — isn’t just about better training for healthy food preparation. It’s also about training staff on how they can help engage students in nutrition and health education in the cafeteria. Simply put, leaving food service personnel out of the healthy food equation makes no sense.

We know it’s important to recognize the excellent work being done by school food service professionals. But truly excellent work is harder to achieve in an industry with varied and limited professional standards. And, we’re pleased to say, the USDA apparently agrees.

On January 30, 2014, the USDA proposed establishing minimum national professional standards and training for school nutrition professionals . These first-ever standards will strengthen the school nutrition profession. The USDA’s proposal calls for creating minimum hiring standards for schools, establishing minimum hiring standards for state directors of school nutrition and requiring minimum annual training for all new and current school nutrition professionals.

Janey Thornton, deputy under secretary for Food, Nutrition and Customer Service, says the proposed standards “will ensure that school nutrition personnel have the training and tools they need to plan, prepare and purchase healthy products to create nutritious, safe and enjoyable school meals.”

As it should, professionalizing school food service jobs elevates the industry and holds those who feed our kids to a higher standard.

This is an important conversation that will impact the meals served to all of our students. Food service professionals are essential partners in delivering healthy school meals, and we need to ensure that the cafeteria is a place of learning and health. Quality professional development and recognition of food service professionals will help take us down that path.