Campus Leads in K-12 Nutrition Training

Verzhine Nikoghosyan, El Vaquero Staff Writer

Glendale Community College is taking a leadership role in training front-line cafeteria workers in public schools to ensure that students are getting nutritious meals.

Glendale College is now the home to the California Professional Nutrition Education and Training Center. Its task is to ensure that children in Southern California are fed well and the food is cooked by professionals.

The child nutrition program is being reauthorized and improved in order to ensure a healthy future for children in schools.

“Child obesity has been increasing astronomically during last 20 years,” said Sona Donayan, dietary program coordinator and CalProNET coordinator at Glendale College. “The rates of obesity increase faster among children. We are worried as a nation.”

Grace Huppert, nutrition education consultant in Nutrition Services Division of the California Department of Education, said that the quality of child nutrition needs to improve.

“Many of the changes were made because of the obesity epidemic,” said Huppert. “Children who are fed well learn better, and this program will improve their academic achievements. Congress passed a nutrition reauthorization last year and that’s the national bill high standards that schools are required to meet.”

This was the major reason the California Department of Education approached Glendale College to start a center for nutrition education for public school staff workers in 2008.

Glendale College met all the criteria to be the California Professional Nutrition Education and Training Center for Southern California. This means the college has been given the leadership role to design, implement and teach courses for public school staff workers who handle the food. Donayan is developing and teaching the courses.

“Our job is to tackle the front-line workers in all schools and also child-care centers. It is for all the public institutions that receive funding from the USDA for lunch or breakfast reimbursement,” said Donayan.

The food requirements established by the USDA include certain amounts of calories in a meal, servings of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, vitamins, minerals and other things.

According to Donayan, if the nutrition staff workers are not aware of servings of fruits and vegetables or other details pertaining to this profession, they will not be able to comply with state standards.

“California is getting ready for the new regulations and we are worried that the staff of the schools are not ready to make those meals that comply with the new guidelines,” said Donayan. “That’s where we come in as a higher education institution. Our job is to train and educate.”

Donayan is currently working on three specific courses. All the courses are one unit and are open to the public. The first course is “Healthy Cuisine for Kids,” and it is being remodeled by Donayan. The course was originally created by the University of Mississippi.

The second course is named “Record Keeping for the Cafeteria Staff,” which will include information on how to keep all the paperwork involved in the process of ordering food, receiving, checking the temperature, and storing the food properly.

The third course is “The Child Nutrition Overview,” which will include the history of the National School Lunch Program that was launched after World War II.

After going through these courses, the students will receive certificates, which will create new opportunities for them in their future careers.

“It is our hope and our goal that the food service operation in the schools will encourage their staff to attend,” said Donayan. “These courses will be the core for the certificate program.”

Another objective of this program is to create a career ladder for those who want to be trained in nutrition. As those who take the certificate program increase their skills in nutrition, the schools will hopefully have openings to hire trained and knowledgeable people, said Huppert.

The program starts its first steps, but there are a number of challenges that need to be overcome. One of them is the industry of processed and prepackaged food. Some schools do not cook from scratch because vendors deliver frozen food to them.

These program requirements create disagreements among the schools’ staff because it will complicate the food preparation procedures and also will create new possible positions for qualified personnel. This presupposes personnel changes and unprecedented funding for new full time positions.

“Recruiting schools to do some extra work is always a bit of a challenge, but we have a request for applications right now to engage school districts in this program and to work within this next year to spread this across the state. We are hopeful that we will have many promising school districts apply,” said Huppert.

This program is inconvenient for food vendors who are willing to sell cheap and processed food, but the program is up and running.

“Part of it is a federal mandate but the other part of it is to make sure that our children are getting the healthiest food possible so that they can be healthy and learn well,” said Huppert.