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Setting the food-service standard

GCC is helping to develop curriculum that officials hope pervades the industry.

February 22, 2011|By Megan O'Neil, megan.oneil@latimes.com

Rotating last month through a room filled with vendors at a school food conference, Glendale Community College nutrition instructor Sona Donayan was bombarded with information about packaging, delivery and pricing.

Nutrition facts were harder to come by.

“They give a lot of incentives, freebies, samples, good prices for highly processed, unhealthy foods,” Donayan said. “[Cafeteria] workers don’t really need to develop any skills if everything delivered is prepackaged and frozen and all you need to do is throw it in the oven, heat it up and call it a meal. A lot of that goes on.”

Properly educated and trained food handlers are necessary to ensure school-provided meals meet the nutritional standards of the U.S. Department of Agriculture — required in order for districts to be reimbursed for free and reduced-cost meals — while also appealing to children, she said.

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And now, Donayan and her colleagues at Glendale Community College’s California Professional Nutrition Education and Training Center are developing a curriculum that will help set statewide standards for school food service workers.

Next month, the center will launch the second phase of Starting Right in Child Nutrition Programs, a multi-year project funded by the California Department of Education under the umbrella of Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign.

It is meant to serve as a model on how to educate cafeteria workers and their managers on federally mandated nutrition guidelines, safety standards and best practices. And often, the cafeteria workforce is disengaged, Donayan said.

“They are recruited to come and serve at given times during the day,” she said. “They do the job, they go home, which gives them no real-life incentive to further themselves. There is no career ladder to climb.”

Senior food service managers often have backgrounds in finance and business, rather than nutrition, Donayan said. In fact, much of the decision making surrounding school food services revolves around cost and convenience, she added.

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