With over 23 years of K-12 foodservice experience, Karen has seen it all. She has helped build school meal programs from the ground up, navigated many regulatory changes and helped her district work through a global pandemic. She does it all with professionalism and pride, and she never loses track of what’s most important — her students. Meko Ivy, child nutrition administrator at Hudson ISD, nominated Karen and says how “even before Covid, she went above and beyond to make sure all students were taken care of and they have the resources they needed for a balanced meal every day of the school year.”
In addition to supporting her district, Karen is happy to share the lessons her experiences have taught her with other K-12 foodservice professionals. Since there’s no competition among districts and everyone has the same goal of keeping students fed and happy, sharing tips and ideas is common. Karen freely offers to mentor those new to the industry and recommends they simply reach out and ask questions. “It’s all about helping each other. It’s not like one restaurant versus their competitor. You can even call the neighboring school district for advice — that’s what I did when I was starting out. We’re all in this together.”
She regularly helps others make sense of dietary guidelines. One of the biggest challenges she recalls having to overcome was adjusting to new regulations brought into place by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids (HHFK) Act.
For a long time, it was difficult to serve foods that met the requirements and tasted good to the students.
Karen mentioned how a major turning point came when manufacturers like General Mills were able to develop and deliver products that fit within the new system. When asked about the items that have made a difference. “Cereal is going to be the first thing kids go to,” Karen says. “It’s almost automatic since they know those brands so well from home. My kids really like the Pillsbury™ Biscuits that are lower in sodium. We use them a lot for dishes like chicken and biscuit with honey or a sausage breakfast sandwich.” Mini pancakes, Yoplait® ParfaitPro®, Mini Cinnis and cereal bars are also extremely popular.
Aside from regulation-ready products, Karen is always willing to try new things to see what works. She even attends a unique food show designed specifically for kids to taste-test items and give immediate feedback. Responses are tracked and accessible through QR codes so everyone can see how the products performed.
It’s Karen’s ability to be creative while working within strict guidelines that has made her a leader among her peers. She’s caring, compassionate and detail oriented. These traits will serve her well as she carries her students and others forward, meeting the challenges of tomorrow. When asked about the impact Karen has had on the school district, her coworker Meko Ivy said, “Everywhere we look, everyone is short staffed and dealing with high turnover, and we have yet to be affected because, not only does she care for the kids, she takes care of us. She makes sure we are appreciated for our work. In a day and age when you can be anything, Karen is EXTRAORDINARY.”
You can update your privacy settings to enable this content. Please enable all cookies to use this feature.