By Brandon Lipps
Deputy Under Secretary for USDA’s Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services
When the USDA Food and Nutrition Service released new school meal flexibilities in November 2017, Kristin Hilleman, a Food & Nutrition Services Director in southern California, breathed a big sigh of relief.
“It wasn’t a huge change,” said Hilleman. “But it is nice to have a little bit of flexibility, especially with sodium and the use of non-whole wheat, when planning meals, such as spaghetti.”
Hilleman is the Director of Food and Nutrition Services from Capistrano Unified School District, located in Orange County. She has worked in school food services since 2006 and was in the healthcare industry prior to that. This background has given her an unusual perspective into the challenges with feeding America’s youth.
“We, of course, want our children to eat the meals they are served,” Hilleman said. “But we know they have to taste good, be appealing, and also be healthy. Sometimes that isn’t so easy; finding that balance is key.”
Hilleman said she and her team pay close attention to sourcing. “We look for the healthiest, least processed food we can find to feed the students. Our goal is that they learn to make healthy food choices as children that carry them into adulthood.”
“USDA is committed to serving healthy meals to school children, and schools need flexibility in menu planning so they can serve nutritious and appealing meals,” said USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Regional Administrator Jesus Mendoza, Jr. He continued, “If kids are not eating the meals, they are not benefiting, and food is being wasted.”
Hilleman added, “This year we added a sharing station, and it has been interesting to watch it evolve. The idea is that students can leave an item that they don’t eat for another student. A student still hungry can pick it up and enjoy an item. Our hope is that it demonstrates to students how to reduce food waste, and help a fellow student.”
Sustainable, compostable packaging is another key initiative that the Capistrano Unified School District emphasizes.
“We want the students to learn the importance and value of our responsibilities for the environment we live in but to also see it in action and be a part of it,” Hilleman said.
“We commend the efforts of America’s school food professionals,” Mendoza said. “And we will continue to assist them as they work to operate successful school meals programs and nourish our nation’s children.”
The Capistrano School District encompasses 200 square miles in seven cities; has 64 schools/programs, and is the largest employer in south Orange County. One of the schools in Hilleman’s district was highlighted by The Washington Post, for the mouthwatering meals being served at Bathgate Elementary in Mission Viejo, California.
These are a few examples of how the Capistrano Unified School District promotes healthy eating by use of social media.
Capistrano Unified School District Grapes social media post.