First Year Initiative Shakes Up School Nutrition Throughout Georgia


SNA's 2017 Annual National Conference (ANC)The following is the nineteenth in a series of news storiesexploring the exciting events at ANC

Earlier this year, Sarah Combs, MS, RD got a surprising letter from a school nutrition manager in North Georgia.

“The manager wrote, ‘when I first read about Shake it Up in School Nutrition, I thought it was silly,’” recalled Combs, who serves as compliance specialist, with the review and technical assistance unit for the Georgia Department of Education. “Along with a newsletter about the Shake it Up program, we had sent her some recipes for salt free seasoning blends.” The manager went on to write, ‘I thought [Shake it Up] would be one more thing that I had to do so I just put out a couple of those seasoning blends for the students and thought that would be that.

“‘But low and behold, the kids started taking them and getting excited about adding them to their meal. I added more blends, even creating a seasoning station. I eventually worked with our IT Department to get a TV in the cafeteria so we could start playing the [Shake it Up] videos on a loop during lunch. That sparked conversations with my students.’”

Combs added “It is just so amazing, Shake it Up for this manager started out so small, but it really snowballed into something that even a critic was excited about!”

In an informative Education Session at SNA’s Annual National Conference (ANC), Combs and her colleague, Paige Holland, grants consultant with the Georgia Department of Education and former nutrition director at Habersham County (Ga.) Schools, will explain the Shake it Up in School Nutrition program that has been so successful in Georgia. The duo will describe the initiative, how it got its start and grew to 65 districts and 1,025 schools, and how this could be utilized and replicated by other states, districts or even individual schools.

Originally launched in June of 2016, Shake it Up was an initiative designed to change the culture of school nutrition by focusing on three key areas: tasty meals, friendly cafeterias and happy schools. The initiative was created in partnership with the Georgia State Board of Education and the Georgia State School Superintendent. The initiative aligns with the State School Superintendents’ Vision 2020 and the 2020 Vision for School Nutrition, which is a partnership with the Departments’ of Agriculture and Public Health to increase the use of Georgia grown products on the school menu.

“When we started out, the goal of Shake it Up was to enhance the flavor of school meals and improve the perception of our program,” explained Combs, who manages and coordinates the program. “But, what truly made this a state-wide effort was creating a unified message with other initiatives and programs and highlighting all the amazing things that are already happening in schools throughout the state. That in turn encourages other schools to make changes and empower them to make positive change happen - like start a Farm to School program or expand their breakfast program.”

Shake it Up focuses on serving “tasty meals” that meet USDA regulations, while also providing excellent customer service and making the cafeteria the “place to be.” And the aforementioned seasoning blends (from the letter) is the part of the initiative that seeks to provide salt-free blends to enhance meals or create new recipes. The overall goal, noted Combs, was to showcase school nutrition programs, while at the same time, give schools the freedom to select areas to channel their efforts. So far, it’s working to perfection.

“What we found is that directors, manages and staff are really hungry for it,” said Combs. “To market the program, we started out by asking the districts to share with us what they are doing and some of the schools started sending us videos. So now, we have started partnering with high school media departments to create Shake it Up videos.”

Once a school signs the “pledge” and joins the ranks of Shake it Up in School Nutrition, they receive resources to help them be successful. Those include a monthly newsletter, marketing materials, recipes, a School Sharing Corner, and Shake it Up training videos dealing with everything from making vegetable substitutions, to how to create great customer service, where people can earn CEUs. Plus, there is an annual Student Chef Competition, where teams of students create dishes that meet USDA requirements. Finalists are judged on overall appeal, appearance, execution, taste, presentation and food safety. Winning recipes are promoted for use in the program.

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“I think students are excited about the initiative too, so what we’re trying to do is reach across the serving line and connect more with them,” said Combs, “They are the next generation and we want them to be excited about school nutrition and not just think of staff as the lunch ladies with the hair nets. We want to create a really positive image because school nutrition professionals are so much more.”

She concluded, “I hope attendees to this session get excited about the Shake it Up initiative and learn how small changes can make a huge impact in your program.”

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