To paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, school lunch programs typically don’t get a lot of respect.
However, Megan Schaper, director of food service for the State College Area School District, would like for people to know that the district’s program provides nutritious, balanced meals that students actually like. In March, in recognition of her dedication to good nutrition, she was named the regional Outstanding Director of the Year by the School Nutrition Association.
She will receive the award at the School Nutrition Association of Pennsylvania conference Aug. 7 in Hershey.
“We run an excellent school lunch program,” said Schaper, who has been working as food service director for the State College Area School District for the past 19 years.
Schaper, who has a degree in hotel/restaurant management from Penn State, worked in restaurants and as food service director for a school district in Pittsburgh prior to taking over the position in State College. When she came on board, she said, the school lunch program, which is funded solely through sales, had lost $120,000 the previous year. In her first year as director, the deficit shrunk to $30,000, and the program has stayed mostly in the black since then.
Some nutrition advocates point a finger at school lunch programs for contributing to the child obesity epidemic, Schaper said, but the district’s food service department provides students with a variety of healthy choices every day. Fresh fruits and vegetables are always on the menu, and half of the grain products that are served are whole grain. Complaining about school lunches may be popular among kids, she said, but almost 70 percent of all elementary students in the district participate in the lunch program.
While Schaper takes pride in the consistency of the program, she received her honor at least partly because of her development and execution of innovative programs within the district, along with her commitment to nutrition education. She assisted with planning and opening five new kitchens in the district, as well as updating current facilities and equipment. She formed the school health council to develop and implement a wellness policy for the district, and created the elementary nutrition council, a parent advisory committee that allows for feedback, input and education.
Schaper has attempted to broaden students’ culinary horizons by bringing in guest chefs to the schools to prepare new recipes, and enlisting parent volunteers to hand out food samples during lunch hours.
Schaper praised the program’s staff members, who undergo food safety training on a regular basis, and also hand out apples, bananas and baby carrots along the homecoming parade route each year.
As the food service program prepares to deal with regulation changes mandated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will go into effect this fall, Schaper said that she and her staff are committed to providing high-quality meals to students.
“I want lunch to be a really pleasant, good experience for kids,” she said.
Stephanie Koons writes this weekly column featuring news from the Centre Region. Contact her at 235-3927 or firstname.lastname@example.org.