The days of cafeteria lunch consisting of over-cooked mystery meat and boiled peas are over, and Carmel Unified School District Nutrition Services Director Mary Jennings is making sure they’re replaced with more appealing alternatives. Growing up working in a family-run restaurant in New Jersey, Jennings grew interested in nutrition after dealing with severe food allergies. She has been working in school food services since 2006.
Weekly: What do you like most about working in school nutrition?
Jennings: I love it because I can work in preventive health, starting with kids really young and hopefully impacting their healthy eating behaviors for lifelong wellness.
What is the biggest challenge you face?
To feed a whole campus of kids [almost 900 students] in half an hour is very challenging. We don’t have time to serve a meal that you can eat with a knife and fork. It has to be fast food, and to make fast food healthy is challenging.
How are nutrition standards changing?
The Trump administration has rolled some standards back. Up until last year we were required to serve all whole grains, 100 percent, any kind of bread product, cereal, cookies or chips. They rolled that back a little bit and now it only has to be 50-percent whole grain.
What are your goals for CUSD cafeterias?
We’re trying to get back to more freshly cooked meals, less processed food, more farm-to-school produce. The fresher it is, the more nutrition it provides.
Do you have a personal favorite on the cafeteria menu?
Our pasta primavera is a great dish that we’ve been making with fettuccine, fresh vegetables and some pesto. I also like some of our new vegetarian items like the hummus wrap.