NFSMI Newsletter


Team Up for School Nutrition Success!

teamup-newsletterNFSMI, in conjunction with USDA, hosted 100+ attendees for the Team Up for School Nutrition Success pilot workshop for school nutrition professionals in the USDA Southeast region on November 12-13, 2014, at The Institute.  The workshop provided customized technical assistance by pairing participants with a mentor from a district of comparable size.  The workshop also provided sessions of best practices in key operation areas that included menu planning, plate waste, increasing participation, and financial management.  Prior to attending the workshop, participants utilized a pre-assessment tool to assess their current operation.  Additionally, NFSMI’s Applied Research Division trained the mentors on how to utilize a research-based coaching model that enabled participants to navigate through their specific areas of concern.  Team Up participants worked to develop personalized goals, strategies, and an action plan to take back to their districts.  NFSMI plans to provide a 3, 6, and 12 month follow-up evaluation of those participants who wish to participate. [Read More…]

Students Get Involved in School Lunch through School Lunch Advisory Councils

Park High School uses creative signage to encourage students to eat fruit.
There are many ways Team Nutrition schools are involving students in the development of school meal menus and health promotion activities. These activities can help schools offer nutritious foods in a manner that appeals to children and can help students learn about nutrition and school foodservice. This guest blog highlights promising strategies for involving students in school meals through the use of School Lunch Advisory Councils. It also describes how Montana students are playing a role in helping their schools implement Smarter Lunchrooms techniques to reduce food waste and increase consumption of healthful foods.

Interested in implementing Smarter Lunchrooms techniques at your school? Get started with this free self-assessment checklist from the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program. Team Nutrition provides nutrition education materials, training tools, and grants to assist schools in creating healthier environments. Learn more about Team Nutrition and how to become a Team Nutrition school at

Park High School uses creative signage to encourage students to eat fruit.

By Katie Bark, RDN, LN, SNS and Molly Stenberg, RDN, LN, Assistant Project Director, Montana Team Nutrition, Montana State University

Food service directors from Montana middle and high schools are enticing teens to choose more fruits and vegetables at school lunch through the use of School Lunch Advisory Councils (SLACs). A SLAC is composed of a food service director, an educator, and two to three students that work together toward a goal of implementing simple, low-cost strategies to encourage students to make healthier choices in the cafeteria. Staff from Montana Team Nutrition and the Montana State University Food and Health Lab work with school SLACs to apply Smarter Lunchrooms techniques in the cafeteria.

For example, students from Park High School’s SLAC in Livingston created signage for the school cafeteria to promote fruit selection. This included a life-size poster of the basketball coach giving out an apple with the caption “Got fruit? Tastes almost as good as victory.” Following the use of the creative signage, repositioning the salad bar, and training food service staff, student consumption of salad bar items doubled, salad bar waste decreased by 40 percent, and overall lunch waste decreased by 35 percent.

SLAC students at Kalispell Middle School helped redesign their cafeteria by moving the salad bar to allow for better access and increased convenience. This simple change increased the number of students making selections from the salad bar by 50 percent.

Interested in starting a SLAC in your school? Here are some words of wisdom from Montana school champions for successful student engagement:

  • Ask teachers, school counselors, or administrators to nominate specific students for the SLAC
  • Consider offering students an incentive for their participation (e.g., extra credit)
  • Schedule SLAC meetings before school or during the lunch hour
  • Schedule activities during the fall semester rather than the spring semester
  • Make the SLAC a school club or a project of an existing club (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America) to help make it sustainable
  • Have students complete a specific task, like before and after photos, completing sections of the Smarter Lunchrooms Self-Assessment Scorecard, collecting surveys, or creating names for menu items

For more information on Smarter Lunchrooms in Montana schools, visit our Smarter Lunchroom Web site.

An Inside Look: Anatomy of a Team Up Workshop

A peer mentor shares her best practices for menu planning during the Wisconsin Team Up training.

If you haven’t heard the buzz, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s expansion of the Team Up for School Nutrition Success initiative is in full swing, with 20 completed trainings and 14 more scheduled for 2016. Team Up offers a unique learning experience that enhances schools’ food service operations through training and peer-to-peer mentorship to school nutrition professionals looking to maintain a healthy environment and encourage strong student meal program participation.
What exactly happens at a Team Up training? Ever had an “a-ha” or a “why didn’t I think of that” moment when a friend shares a really great idea? Team Up is where “a-ha” moments are shared among school nutrition professionals and turned into action back via their school meals programs. Let’s break down a Team Up workshop to see how these “a-ha” moments transpire.

A peer mentor shares her best practices for menu planning during the Wisconsin Team Up training.

Best Practice Panel Presentations

Great ideas are meant for sharing. Team Up workshops kick off with panels where participants hear school nutrition peer mentors share their best practices and strategies for issues like increasing school meal program participation, menu planning and financial management.

At the Georgia Team Up training, participants share ideas and questions for menu planning and increasing program participation.

At the Georgia Team Up training, participants share ideas and questions for menu planning and increasing program participation.

Breakout Sessions

This is where the magic happens! After listening to best practice presentations, participants break out into small groups for a round of brainstorming and problem-solving around each specific topic, all with best practice ideas in mind. Using the Egan Skilled Helper Model, which uses an opportunity-development approach, school nutrition peer mentors guide and facilitate discussions as participants identify their program challenges and develop solutions with their peers. During the breakout sessions, participants examine:

  • What is going on in my school nutrition program?
  • What does a better outcome look like?
  • How do I get to the better outcome?
  • How do I make it all happen?

The Action Plan

Participants examined their challenges and solutions and excitement is building around progress and potential opportunities identified during the breakout sessions. What do participants do with all of these great ideas? Peer mentors help participants put their specific strategies and solutions into an action plan using SMART goals, which are defined as goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time‐bound. Participants take their action plan home as a guide to implement their Team Up strategies and solutions in their school nutrition programs.


Operating a school meals program can be challenging, but school nutrition directors don’t have to do it alone. Team Up workshops invite allied organizations to share their free school nutrition resources that support school food service operations and help create a healthy school environment. Participants can use these resources as they move forward with implementing their action plan in their school nutrition programs.

Networking is another valuable resource Team Up workshops provide, giving school nutrition directors opportunities to develop working relationships with their peer mentors and other school nutrition directors in their state. Many directors who have attended a Team Up training have expressed that they’re not alone and can turn to their fellow director. “I can now see what areas I need to work and improve on in my program. I see that I am not alone in my journey. I have many helpful people that I can rely on for help and guidance. The Team Up training was valuable to me because I am more comfortable talking to my peers. I see I am not alone and I can ask for help.” – Rebecca Lusk, Manager/Supervisor, Towns County Schools, Hiawassee, Ga.

After the Workshop

The Team Up workshop may be complete, but the Team Up spirit lives on. After returning home, participants roll up their sleeves, take a deep breath, and take the first steps outlined in their Team Up action plan – and then real life happens. Barriers pop up as action plans are implemented, but there’s no reason to get discouraged. Team Up peer mentors and state agencies are still available should participants have questions or get stuck with their action plan. In addition, USDA together with the Institute of Child Nutrition hosts monthly webinars for school nutrition professionals to expand their knowledge and tools on a wide variety of topics; webinars recordings are made available online for later viewing.

And this is why Team Up workshops are so effective – Team Up encourages school nutrition professionals to continue to network with their peers and problem-solve school nutrition program barriers long after the workshop is completed. No one is an island, and we must team up to make school meals accessible, nutritious and delicious!

For more information about the Team Up for School Nutrition Success initiative, check out the Team Up Web site and these guest blogs authored by former participants in the Team Up workshops. For more information on other training and resources available to school nutrition professionals, visit our Healthier School Day web site.

West Virginia: After the Flooding Neighbors Helping Neighbors Get the Food They Need

Venise LeGrande

Venise LeGrande, a Greenbrier County resident, awaits processing of her D-SNAP application.

It was late July in Greenbrier County, W.Va., almost one month to the day since torrential rain and flooding struck most of the state. In response to the disaster, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service approved the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources (DHHR) request to operate a Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) in several of the most severely impacted counties, including Greenbrier. At several of the D-SNAP application sites throughout the state, dozens of DHHR staff prepared for what they anticipated to be a busy week of conducting interviews, determining eligibility, and issuing D-SNAP benefits to residents who lost food, income and property due to the flooding.

Venise LeGrande is a resident of White Sulphur Springs, one of hardest hit towns in Greenbrier County. LeGrande recalls what it was like when the rain began the morning of June 23, 2016, when, what everyone thought was just another rainstorm turned into a deluge that didn’t stop for almost the entire day. “We have little creeks, enough just for you to put your feet in, [they] opened up like the Red Sea,” said LeGrande. By the end of the day, up to 10 inches of rainfall accumulated in Greenbrier County and the majority of West Virginia, which classified it as a 1,000 year incident. The rainfall was followed by severe flooding which swept away homes and uprooted entire roads. “The ground itself has been like someone just sliced it like a piece of pizza and put it to the side,” said LeGrande, who considers herself lucky that all she lost was electricity for several days and the food in her refrigerator. She had family members who weren’t so fortunate, like a cousin who had waist deep water in his house.

D-SNAP provides benefits to eligible households who do not qualify for regular SNAP benefits, but who experience disaster-related expenses, such as loss of income or property, so they are better able to get food following a disaster. Along with other federal programs, D-SNAP has assisted thousands of households in the past year, following other historic flooding incidents, such as in Louisiana and South Carolina. Yet, operation of the D-SNAP would not be possible without the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of state agency personnel who are mobilized to ensure all affected communities are properly served. Many of these personnel are part of the impacted community and disaster survivors, themselves. Helping neighbors get the assistance they need comes naturally.

Penny Dillon-Avila is one of several DHHR employees who volunteered to travel three and a half hours from her home to assist in the Greenbrier County D-SNAP. For her, the recent flooding had personal significance. “When I was a little girl, back in 1977, we lost our home; we lost everything [to flooding],” said Dillon-Avila. “It was devastating…there were about 15 of us living in my grandmother’s home for several weeks.” She admitted it was difficult choosing to spend time away from her family, which includes a son just beginning college at West Virginia University, and another son in the military who only had a few weeks of leave left before being redeployed. But she felt the mission of the D-SNAP was important. “They miss me being home; I miss being at home with them, but at the end of the day, I have a home to go back to.”

Debbie Neal is another DHHR employee from Raleigh County, who didn’t hesitate to sign up as a worker for the Greenbrier County D-SNAP. “They asked for volunteers and I knew immediately that I wanted to. I just like helping people.” Reflecting on the households who shared stories of loss and grief with her, she believes D-SNAP has been important to the recovering community. “I think that gives you hope. Even for the clients to know that there’s that many people reaching out, that gives them hope.”

Because D-SNAP serves households that might not normally need nutrition assistance, some households were hesitant about applying for assistance. “For some people it’s hard to come in and ask for that help,” said Michael Tetreault, a DHHR employee and Greenbrier County resident. “So we try to reassure people: It doesn’t matter whether you want to or don’t want to, we’re here for you. The program is here for you.”

While the impact of the June flooding is still fresh in people’s minds and recovery efforts will continue for months, D-SNAP and the efforts of West Virginia DHHR provide crucial nutrition assistance to affected households as they continue to rebuild and recover. DHHR staff believe that, with help such as D-SNAP, the resiliency of the community will win out over the grief and loss. “This is West Virginia,” said Dillon-Avila. “[They’ll] bounce back from it, because people pull together.”

Because September is National Preparedness Month and after working with our partners on these disasters, it is a good time to think about emergency planning. Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make an Emergency Communication Plan for you and your family because you just don’t know when disasters will impact your community.

Think Nutrition as High School Students Return to School

SuperTracker Lesson Plans for High School graphic

SuperTracker Lesson Plans for High School graphic

The start of the school year is a great time to get high school students thinking about the nutrition and physical activity choices they make. USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) and Team Nutrition have a variety of resources available to support high school educators as they guide students on their path to good health.

SuperTracker Lesson Plans for High School Students

CNPP has just released updated SuperTracker Nutrition Lesson Plans for High School Students. This free nutrition education resource for teachers, schools, and health educators helps students grades 9-12 learn how to build a healthy diet using MyPlate and SuperTracker, an interactive food and physical activity tracking tool. Originally released in 2014, the lesson plans have been updated to reflect the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and two new lessons have been added.

SuperTracker is an engaging, interactive tool that can help students think critically about their food and physical activity choices. SuperTracker offers personalized recommendations for what and how much to eat; tracking of food, physical activity, and weight; goal setting; and a new group challenge feature that encourages healthy lifestyle choices through friendly competition. The online application is available on desktop and mobile devices.

The SuperTracker Nutrition Lesson Plans for High School Students were created to support teachers in using SuperTracker in the classroom. In addition to the two new lessons mentioned above, the lesson plans also include a variety of topics such as healthy snacking, finding personal dietary recommendations, evaluating food selections, building healthy meals, physical activity, and calorie balance. Each lesson plan includes learning objectives, detailed instructions, and an accompanying handout. To download the SuperTracker lesson plans or find other resources for the classroom, visit

Toolkit for Back to School Events

Help families get off to a healthy start this school year! USDA Team Nutrition has just released a Toolkit for Back to School Events featuring posters, flyers, event ideas, taste test ballots, and more. Incorporate these fun activities and resources into your school’s back to school night or open house. Consider asking your school nurse, health and physical education teacher(s), Family and Consumer Sciences teacher, school nutrition director, and/or school wellness coordinator to join in.

What You Can Do to Help Prevent Wasted Food cover

Use this booklet to get everyone on the school campus involved in reducing food waste.

What You Can Do To Prevent Wasted Food Booklet

What You Can Do To Prevent Wasted Food is an easy-to-use booklet from Team Nutrition that provides tips for school nutrition professionals, teachers, parents, students, and school administrators on many ways that everyone can help reduce, recover, and recycle food before it goes to waste.

A Guide to Smart Snacks in School Brochure

Help make the healthy choice the easy choice for kids at school. The Guide to Smart Snacks in Schools from Team Nutrition provides an overview of Smart Snacks Standards and how to tell if a food or beverage meets the requirements. This is a ready-to-go resource for anyone who oversees the sale of foods or beverages to students on the school campus during the school day.

You can make a difference in the nutrition and physical activity choices high school students make! Get the school year off to a great start by incorporating the lessons and tips from these valuable resources. Visit and to learn more.

SuperTracker lesson plan

Each lesson plan includes learning objectives, detailed instructions, and an accompanying handout.

Local Foods in Schools Bring Rural Communities Together

Cortez Middle School students sampling produce

Cortez Middle School students sampling produce from the garden.

From the west coast to New England, rural communities across the country are implementing community food systems’ strategies. The projects are bringing more local food into school meals, promoting healthy eating habits and expanding markets for American farmers and producers.

The USDA Farm to School Grant Program is proud to support these efforts. Over the past four years, approximately four out of ten schools impacted by the program are in rural communities. We look forward to supporting similar projects in the future and are currently accepting applications for Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 funding. Visit our grant opportunities page for more information.

To celebrate the release of the FY 2017 RFA, we are highlighting two projects that are having a big impact in their communities.

Supporting Farm to School in Southwest Colorado

Mancos Conservation District’s Montezuma School to Farm Project provides hands-on experiences for students through integrated school garden classes, nutrition education, farm field trips, youth farmers markets, and summer farm camps. Additionally, their collaborations help facilitate regional product aggregation and distribution, connecting regional producers and schools. The project works primarily in Montezuma County and partners with organizations that serve La Plata County, both of which are in rural Southwestern Colorado. And with the help of a FY 2016 USDA Farm to School Grant, the team established a production farm and greenhouse on the site of Cortez Middle School in Cortez. The team also established a heritage apple orchard, expected to produce over 50,000 pounds of fruit annually!

And these efforts are having a big impact – in 2015, the program logged more than 26,000 student education hours reaching 2,000 students and producing more than 4,000 pounds of produce. Key to the success of these efforts is continued support from school leadership. The Cortez Public Schools’ superintendent believes that these projects “increase [their] capacity to engage students and provide them with healthy, nutritious foods that enable them to be at their best to learn throughout the day.”

From Ag Literacy to Local on the Tray in Central Maine

RSU-18 School District serves five towns: Belgrade, China, Oakland, Sidney and Rome. Over 10 years ago, a group of staff members had the idea to collaborate across departments to teach their children where their food was coming from. With mini grants from Maine Ag in the Classroom and the Read “ME” agricultural literacy program, teachers and staff engaged students in conversations about how food was grown. A few years later, high school students began a movement to get more fresh, unprocessed foods served in the cafeteria. With the seeds planted, and the desire for more robust programming, RSU-18 applied for and received a USDA Farm to School Planning Grant in FY 2015.

The Let’s Go Farm to School to RSU-18 project now boasts a 15-member advisory group, charged with implementing a three C’s approach to building healthy habits, integrating farm to school principals within the classroom, cafeteria and community. Lessons about food, agriculture and nutrition have been integrated into the curriculum, and piloted in every grade. Farmers and others in the local agricultural industry visited each classroom, and students put their instruction to the test in raised bed gardens. Menu updates incorporated local milk, blueberries, and potatoes, with the goal of working towards 25-50 percent of food served through RSU-18’s Child Nutrition Programs coming from a local source.

Let’s Celebrate

As in Maine and Colorado, rural communities across the country have the power to build a generation of healthy eaters and stimulate local economies. To read more about USDA’s investments in rural America and its successful turnaround, visit USDA’s latest entry on, Rural America Is Back in Business.