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Summer meal site dishes out wisdom, nutrition

Monday, July 25, 2022

Do you like purple cauliflower? Children participating in summer meals at Karen Acres Elementary school in Urbandale recently learned they do, and their discovery was made by design.

Feeding kids nutritious meals all summer is serious business, and equally important at mealtime is the opportunity for camaraderie, positive peer pressure, enrichment and even taste testing. It’s an all-inclusive experience served up like a well-wrapped burrito in free breakfasts and lunches for children up to age 18 at the Karen Acres Elementary School summer meal site.

View photos from Karen Acres Elementary summer meal site.

When the school year ends and regular school meals cease, summer meal sites like Karen Acres play a critical role in keeping kids fed and healthy. This summer, about 2,000 breakfasts and 4,000 lunches will be served at the Karen Acres site.

It takes a well-planned, highly coordinated effort executed by skilled teams of nutrition professionals to make it happen, especially on the heels of a pandemic where food industry supply chain disruptions are the rule and guarantees are the exception. Flexibility is a must.

Leading the charge for the Urbandale Community School District is Director of Nutrition Services Jessy Sadler, who for five years served as nutrition director in Saydel schools before coming aboard at Urbandale. Now in her third year at Urbandale, it is the district’s first year for summer meals.

Jessy Sadler

Jessy Sadler

Originally from Lebanon, Sadler moved to the United States with her family at age 12, then moved herself to Illinois to earn a master’s in human nutrition and on to Iowa State in pursuit of a Ph.D. She brings her knowledge and experience of various cultures and cuisines to her work and is visibly passionate about nourishing children. The summer meal program affords Sadler and her team the opportunity to have a direct impact on the health of the children they serve.

“Research shows that children eat with their eyes first,” Sadler said. “We also know that the color green in food is not typically appetizing for children. So, we put that knowledge into action and add a variety of colors, along with green, to their plate.

“We also know the power of positive peer pressure. We exploit that and remind our older students that they are role models for the younger ones. We have seen the positive effects during taste testing where students are given opportunities to try new foods.”

Sadler and her team make it all seem so easy. The reality is there are myriad details to coordinate for successful meal service including planning meals that meet federal nutrition guidelines yet appeal to students, budgeting, ordering, receiving, prepping, cooking, packaging, loading, transporting, delivering and, finally, successful service to the hungry young students at the site.

The meals arrive at Karen Acres via vehicle caravan piloted by district nutrition professionals who, outfitted in hairnets, gloves and T-shirts that read, “Everyone deserves food,” are clearly on a mission. They spring into action, load the food onto carts and head out to set up in the school cafeteria. These are friendly, skilled professionals who are extremely efficient and focused on their work. They move at notable speed knowing that soon hungry students will line up for a meal and there is little room for error or miscalculation.

When students arrive for a meal they are greeted enthusiastically by staff who are happy to serve and encourage the children to not only receive and enjoy a hearty, nutritious meal, but to also “Please give the colorful, purple cauliflower a try!”, and to “Please go ahead and take some mayonnaise, sweetie.” They dish up delicious food with loving care and kindness as if each child were one of their own.

The children are grateful. “Please” and “thank you” are plentiful as is “you’re welcome”. One child exclaimed, “My dream came true! I was hoping you would have this kind of sandwich!”, to which the staff responded, “I’m so glad! You let me know how you like it, how it tastes to you, okay? Be sure to try some purple cauliflower, too!” Good negotiations ensue. Both parties are invested.

Although summer meals are the focus for now, Sadler is already gearing up for the nutrition journey this fall.

“I am looking forward to a more normal year ahead,” Sadler said. “Quality food is so important. I am excited to increase our emphasis on local foods, and there are so many new foods to introduce to the students.”

Sadler already plans to help celebrate World Rice and Beans Day in the fall. Thanks to Sadler and her team, children can travel the world through the joy of discovering diverse nutritious foods and, yes, even fresh, raw purple cauliflower.



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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on August 18, 2022 at 8:13pm.