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The Minnesota School Nutrition Association held its annual conference this past week in St Cloud. As usual it was a lot of fun–where else can you get all of Minnesota’s Lunch Ladies and Meal Men together for a great time? The opening key note speaker, Renee Rongen, was fabulous, as she got us all excited and inspired to make the most out of our lives and the three-day conference.

There were a lot of interesting, relevant topics for the frontline nutrition staff – cashiers and cook staff from utilizing interpersonal skills to better understanding USDA meal program regulations. I thought the conference hit a home run on topic selection for the attendees as these are the people who directly interact with the students on a daily basis and keep school meal programs flowing.

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The conference had one hands-on class focusing on spices: it requires previous registration and was filled within minutes. In fact there was a lottery because it was so popular. Historically these types of classes are very popular, yet there have been very few offered at the conferences. MSNA and its members would greatly benefit from offering more of these hands-on classes. Most people want to be able to use in their kitchens practical ideas that they learned and start implementing them immediately. Be it knife skills, or food processing skills, I hope MSNA creates more of these opportunities.

To end the conference, Maureen Mulvaney, aka MGM Superstar, gave an impassioned, way out-of-the-box, inspirational speech about how the school meal staff are more than just cooks.  These staff members are often the only smiling faces a child sees in a day. These folks are motivating, inspiring and nourishing our future leaders.  

The reality is that school lunch is about much more than just serving food to children. In many countries, school lunch is used to help give students an academic advantage and perform better in everything they do.  It’s about providing nourishing food that helps kids thrive and helps them be calmer, more focused and less aggressive.  Most nutrition directors understand this,and as soon as districts recognize this opportunity, the district’s collective grades will increase, and behavior issues will decrease.  And wouldn’t it be amazing if parents truly understood this as well?