Growing Up Fresh

The United Fresh Start Foundation is focused on one core mission — to increase children’s access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

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Fresh Festival Inspires Big Menu Changes for Small Maine School District

Feb 08, 2019

As educators seek new ways to add excitement in their classrooms, just down the hall in the lunchroom, the challenge is no different for school nutrition directors like Jeanne Reilly.

Jeanne credits the Foundation’s Fresh Festival for School Foodservice for inspiring her recent reinvention of her district’s menu and stimulating her students’ taste buds. Learning about various flavor profiles and making connections with growers and their resources at the Fresh Festival propelled her to introduce popular items like oven roasted, parmesan-crusted zucchini fries.

Director of School Nutrition for the Windham Raymond School District in Windham, Maine, Jeanne understands the importance of encouraging her district’s 3,300 students in six schools to eat healthy.

“As school nutrition directors, we really believe we’re changing the way the next generation eats,” Jeanne states. “While it’s crucial to introduce kids to fruits and vegetables, our goal is to get them to truly enjoy eating healthy, so they make it a habit beyond the school day.”

Her determination to evolve her menu, expose children to new foods, and promote her district’s foodservice program on social media, led her to accept the United Fresh Start Foundation’s invitation to attend the School Foodservice Forum and Fresh Festival for School Foodservice at the United Fresh annual convention.

Jeanne relished the opportunity to meet like-minded school nutrition professionals from districts big and small, whom share similar challenges in serving students.

“It was incredibly invaluable to hear how other school foodservice programs run their operations and to share successes and best practices with each other,” said Jeanne.

What Jeanne didn’t anticipate was how much she would gain from meeting those on the other side of the supply chain, both while walking the trade show floor and participating in the Fresh Festival for School Foodservice mini-expo, also held at the convention.

“I really learned about the other end of farm to school from producers and growers,” Jeanne recounted. “I made great connections. We discussed their challenges and strategized how to break down those barriers to increase accessibility of fresh fruits and vegetables of all varieties in schools.”

Jeanne was pleased to find foodservice packs of cut-and-cleaned Brussels sprouts as she walked the aisles of the Fresh Festival. Jeanne had long wanted to add Brussels sprouts to her menu, but knew they were a tricky vegetable for her kitchen staff to handle.

“I struck up a conversation with the representative from Green Giant and asked if they had ready-to-cook Brussels sprouts distribution in Maine. I found out Green Giant actually packs them in Maine — in our neighboring town!”

Sweet chili roasted Brussels sprouts are now a staple on Jeanne’s menu, and they sell out before Jeanne even has a chance to go through the lunch line!

“It’s so rewarding to watch the kids we serve in the cafeteria actually get excited about eating fruits and vegetables. We even get emails from parents telling us their kids request these same fruits and vegetables at the supermarket. It’s comforting to know we’re changing the way kids eat outside of school too.”

By: Ben Massoud, Communications Manager, United Fresh Produce Association 

Since 2013, the United Fresh Start Foundation has hosted leading K-12 school foodservice directors at the United Fresh annual convention.  In June 2019, the foundation will once again host its School Foodservice Forum and Fresh Festival for School Foodservice, June 10-12 in Chicago.  To participate as an attendee, or to support this programming as a sponsor or Fresh Festival exhibitor, contact Andrew Marshall at 202.303.3407.

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