As the effects of COVID-19 continue to impact school districts across the country, K-12 kitchen
staff have had to continuously pivot – all while putting smiles on their students’ faces and increasing participation. Kelly Raser, the Nutrition Services Director at Jordan Public Schools,
and her staff are an outstanding example of this work.
“We truly believe lunch should be the highlight of students’ days. We want them to have fun and look forward to coming to lunch. Even if the meal isn’t their favorite, they get to see some of their favorite people,” said Raser.
Raser has been with Jordan for two years—starting out as a Community Ed front desk fill-in, and in January 2020 she took over an Elementary Kitchen Manager position. In August 2021, she was promoted to Nutrition Services Director.
“This year we are fully back to in-person learning which has been fantastic,” she explained. “We’ve had a lot of staff changes in the last year and a half too, so this year is kind of new to everyone. It’s been fun to create what we want it to be as opposed to what it’s always been.”
When asked how they promote their meals, Raser said, “It’s often word of mouth. I also have a Nutritional Services Twitter page, and we use that to post fun things we’re doing. We are making things more accessible for students. For Jordan Public Schools, we took breakfast to the hallways and common spaces because that’s where the kids are,” said Raser. The convenience and flexibility that General Mills grab ‘n go products offer made it easy for Raser and her staff to help students to start their day off right. “When we’re preparing large quantities of breakfast bags, grab ‘n go items make the process more efficient.”
The flexibility of these products also helped Kelly feed kids at home during the Pandemic. “When COVID-19 was at its height, we loaded up the buses and went to neighborhoods. The kids were so excited to see us. The number of cards, gifts, and candy we got was uplifting,” she commented.
“Students have been trying all kinds of new foods. For example, we now offer pico de gallo instead of diced tomatoes,” she said. “We’re helping them to step outside the box of what they are used to. I was shocked when I found out how many elementary students didn’t know what sour cream was! It’s been fun introducing them to some new items and getting them excited about the food.”
“If there’s anything I am good at, it’s having fun at work. We did a pumpkin carving contest between the kitchens this year, and the grand prize was having me mop their kitchen for a week,” said Raser. “We’ve been implementing some more fun things: I encouraged all the kitchens to dress up for Halloween. The elementary kitchen staff each were a different condiment, which was adorable.”
“We try to get together as a full staff (instead of individual staffs) often, and I get to each kitchen as much as I can to see how everyone is doing. We care about the people we work with and not just the job that needs to get done,” Raser noted.
What Does the Future Look Like?
“We really had to brainstorm how to be more efficient, change things up, and save some money, all while offering more exciting and new meals to students to have higher participation,” she noted. “We are adding more interactive meals. For instance, we had build-your-own mac and cheese and totchos. It’s fun and exciting for the kids, and it’s also helpful for using extra product we have on hand already. The kitchens were able to tailor those meals to what their students would be interested in.”
When asked what positive things have come out of the last couple of years, she reflected that a lot of the changes have helped them be more efficient, increase student participation, and get the staff in a better place.
“We are all working as a team and relying on each other more than we ever have before,” said Raser.
Follow along with Kelly and the Jordan Public Schools to see what other exciting ideas they come up with to put smiles on their students’ faces.