Arianne Corbett, Nutritionist with Hillsborough County Public Schools, Tampa, Florida
In April 2022, Hillsborough County Public Schools welcomed a new nutritionist with a passion for promoting healthy eating habits among students. She brought a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm to the district, utilizing her extensive experience in dietary health and government policies.
Before joining the district, Arianne was a successful consultant with a love for storytelling. As she kept hearing remarkable stories related to school nutrition, she couldn't help but be drawn to the field. Her journey began in 2007 as a dietician in healthcare, but it was her time in Washington, D.C., working with the School Nutrition Association and advocating for bills related to school nutrition and meals, that ignited her passion for the K-12 community.
When the opportunity to work in her hometown of Hillsborough County presented itself, she couldn't resist. It was a full-circle moment. Not only did she attend Hillsborough County Public Schools, but so did her mother, father, and husband — and her children are currently in attendance there as well. Her deep connection to the community drove her desire to contribute positively to the education and nutrition of local students. Arianne says, “It was the right opportunity to put my time and talent to work in a place where I knew I could really make a significant impact on the kids who live in my hometown.”
Hillsborough County Public Schools is not a small district. It is one of the largest in Florida with approximately 190,000 students. They serve around 115,000 lunches and 60,000 breakfasts daily across 235 schools — that’s close to 32 million meals in a school year. The student population is notably diverse, reflecting a rich tapestry of cultures and backgrounds. This diversity has driven Arianne to focus on providing culturally relevant meals that appeal to students while meeting nutritional guidelines.
Over the past year and a half, the district has undergone a transformative change in its approach to menus through the Farm-to-School Program. Working in collaboration with the nonprofit organization Locally Grown, which Arianne helped found prior to her role with the district, she has helped secure a grant that allows for strategic planning and execution of this initiative ever since.
The program encompasses three key components: purchasing local food, establishing school gardens, and educating students about the importance of locally sourced food. All three elements are essential to the program's success, as they not only provide fresh produce but also engage students in the process of growing and appreciating the food they eat.
The "Harvest of the Month" program has been implemented across all schools, highlighting Florida-based producers that grow items such as sweet corn, fresh green beans, and strawberries. The program has been a hit to say the least. Arianne shared, “Over four weeks last year, we served more than 30,000 pounds of strawberries. They were so popular, we couldn’t even keep them on the line. The kids were over the moon to have local strawberries in their school meals.”
Another exciting innovation has been the introduction of a hydroponic garden at Lockhart Elementary Magnet School that allows students to witness the growth of vegetables firsthand and then enjoy them on the spot. And nothing goes to waste. For example, broccoli leaves were transformed into "chips" by the school chef, a creative twist that students loved. Arianne believes increasing the variety of fruits and vegetables served increases the likelihood of students trying new foods.
This focus has resulted in a surge in yogurt parfaits and various options for serving fresh, canned, and frozen fruits. She shared how collaboration with vendors and manufacturers has been instrumental in diversifying school menu offerings. Establishing strong relationships with these partners has ensured a variety of choices that appeal to students while aligning with nutritional guidelines.
Arianne relies on vendors to provide a range of options and appreciates their understanding of her needs and the products they offer. Additionally, she emphasizes accountability when it comes to nutritional crediting, relying on her partners to provide accurate information. Arianne expressed her appreciation of partners like General Mills Foodservice, saying, “I commend the work they are doing to bring sugar levels down in cereals so we have many more options for kids to choose from.”
The district's nutrition efforts extend beyond the typical lunch and breakfast programs. They provide dinner in around 180 schools, offering options like Pillsbury™ Cheesy Pull-Aparts that cater to students' preferences and dietary needs. By participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program, they can provide balanced, reimbursable meals with an educational component.
What motivates Arianne is a steadfast commitment to the well-being of students. She recognizes the challenges but understands the vital role school meals play in students' lives. She emphasizes how school nutrition is not just about feeding hungry students, it's an opportunity to educate and make a lasting impact on their health and eating habits.
Reflecting on her career, Arianne takes immense pride in her work on the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act in 2010, a pivotal moment in shaping school nutrition standards. Although her current role presents its own unique challenges, she continues to be a tireless champion for healthy school meals and the positive role they have in students' lives.
As different challenges always arise for K-12 foodservice, Arianne encourages fresh perspectives to enter the arena. While historic knowledge is invaluable, new ideas and approaches can bring about significant change. She shared how a sense of purpose is essential in this challenging yet rewarding field. Arianne says, “If we want productive citizens in our communities, we have to feed them well. I’ve felt a calling to ensure all kids have access to nutritious meals to help them leave our district healthier than when they started.”
In the end, it's all about the children. Arianne’s dedication to improving the lives of students in Hillsborough County Public Schools serves as an inspiring example of the positive impact that school nutrition can have on the future of our youth. With passionate individuals like her leading the way, the outlook for school nutrition is brighter than ever.
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