Keyana Griffin, Nutrition Manager at Brimhall Elementary, Roseville, Minnesota
Keyana Griffin sees food as more than a source of nourishment. She views it as a way to connect, express love, and bring people together. That’s an amazing approach for any chef, but coming from a K-12 foodservice operator dealing with so many regulations, it’s even more impressive. During our interview, her commitment, passion, and enthusiasm were infectious as she shared stories about her decades-long life in foodservice that started in her late teens.
Although Keyana has only been with Brimhall Elementary for a couple of years, her experiences and impact have been tremendous — connecting with students, sampling exciting new menu items, and more. “I never thought my new love of K-12 feeding would be as powerful as it is, but the way the kids react to the food is amazing. I love when they’re interested in the menu and want to know what’s going to be served the next day.”
Keyana has a unique approach to making sure kids stay excited about their school’s menus. When she has an idea for something new to try, she makes up small sample cups for the students. Feedback is often a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down, but she knows they appreciate being a part of the decision-making process. Keeping them involved only furthers the bond she has with her students.
One dish that made the cut and has become a regular are her sambusas. Originally brought in to better connect with Somalian students who are a part of Brimhall Elementary’s diverse student population, the flavorful, savory pastries have become a hit with nearly everyone.
Keyana shared a particularly moving story about a new student from Spain who didn’t speak English. Keyana was patient and enlisted the help of a staff member to communicate and find some foods the timid, young girl would eat. The efforts paid off and the two now have a special relationship that continues to grow.
In addition to ethnic-inspired flavors, Keyana also relies on many products from General Mills. She shared how a good portion of their daily breakfasts feature different varieties of Pillsbury™ Mini Waffles, cereal cups, and Pillsbury™ Mini Cinnis. Pillsbury™ Cheesy Pull-Aparts are also a hit as snacks or sides.
Keyana also connects with students by going the extra mile to make them feel special on their birthdays. She always manages to find a treat for them, and it makes all the difference. “I love getting to know the students, and having them get to know me,” she says. “It’s important to understand that these children will be impacted by us. To know that I might be remembered by them down the line is so special to me.”
That love has been equally reciprocated. Keyana shared how recently on her birthday, she experienced an entire day of celebration from her students. She said of the outpouring of kindness, “It lets me know I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
When asked what advice she would give others who might be new to K-12 foodservice, Keyana expressed how it’s necessary to make things real and personal. She clarified the point by saying, “You have to serve students the way you would want to be served. You have to care. It’s not about the money, it’s about passion and making a difference.”
Others around her definitely appreciate Keyana's dedication and passion. Maria Amerman, who serves as her supervisor, expressed heartfelt admiration for Keyana's commitment to quality, her genuine concern for the students and staff, and her desire to make the cafeteria a standout place rather than just another mundane destination for the kids. Maria added she wished every student had the privilege of having someone like Keyana (affectionately referred to as Miss K) in their lives. Hearing such glowing praises from Maria only solidifies our agreement with Keyana's exceptional qualities and the positive impact she has on those around her.
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