A survey was developed using a comprehensive review of the literature and an expert work group composed of State agency staff members to develop the project and to facilitate the planned face-to-face expert work group. The survey was validated by State agency staff representing nine states and five USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) regions.

Researchers emailed an invitation with a link to the survey to fifty-six State agency child nutrition program (CNP) directors. The invitation explained the purpose of the survey, asked recipients to complete the survey, and asked them to share the survey link with all members of their staff who work with school meal programs.


A total of 143 individuals responded to the survey. Twenty-six of the 56 State agency directors completed the survey. Because staff members were asked to participate by the directors, the actual number solicited is unknown. State agency CNP staff comprised the highest percentage of respondents (58%), while 18% were State agency directors. There was good representation across the seven regions. The highest number of respondents represented the Mountain Plains region (n=30), and the smallest number was from the Northeast region (n=12).

 Conclusions and Applications

State agency staff perceive a need for training in various topics at both basic and advanced levels. For the five content areas explored, financial management and procurement were rated highest in need for training. When exploring preferences for training, respondents prefer training in the summer months (June, July, and August) when school meal programs are not operating. While they prefer one to two days training, shorter lengths of time are optimal for about 20% of respondents. Face-to-face training is by far the preferred format, while online formats are second choices. One main reason respondents did not use USDA and ICN resources is that State agency staff were not aware of them. Others noted that the websites are sometimes difficult to use.


Full Article

Leadership and Training in School Meal Programs
Alicia Landry, PhD, RD, LDN, SNS; Dominique Stamps, BS;
Allison White, BS. University of Central Arkansas                                                               

Much of the current training for school nutrition professionals is on technical skills. School nutrition professionals often excel in technical roles but get overlooked for leadership positions, despite responsibility and expectations. Providing a benchmark to evaluate existing training needs and technical skills could help these employees’ overall job satisfaction and longevity. The purpose of this study was to assess the impact of leadership training on leadership qualities in school nutrition managers in programs participating in the National School Lunch Program.


A quantitative cross-sectional design was used with purposive sampling. School nutrition directors and managers in Arkansas completed a survey online via Qualtrics.


A total of 107 participants (49 Directors, 58 managers or staff) responded to the survey. The mean age was 50.9 (+9.7), years in position was 11.1 (+9.6), and the number of employees supervised was 19.7 (+40.8). Most (n=70, 65.4%) reported having participated in leadership training in the past and most reported attending training on communication (n=26, 24.3%) and accountability (n=22, 20.6%). Very few participants reported being discouraged from applying for promotions. Half (n=48, 50.5%) reported being mentored to become a better employee in their current position while less than a third (n=27, 28.4%) had been promoted in the last three years. The mean score for supervisor leadership was 37.3 (+15.6, range 19-85). The lowest scoring items were “recognizes emotional signals of others” and “provides guidance without additional pressure”.

 Conclusions and Applications

Participants reported receiving mentoring and training in leadership. However, few reported recent promotions, and overall leadership scores for supervisors were low. Encouraging supervisor training on emotional intelligence and motivation may help employees feel more supported.

Environmental Scan and Formative Research of Student Engagement Practices in Support of School Meal Programs
Jane Peterson, PhD, RDN. Institute of Child Nutrition, Applied Research Division,
The University of Southern Mississippi; Prabhdeep Sandha, PhD. Metropolitan State University of Denver

Introduction: Student engagement is an interactive strategy that involves students as vital and dynamic, hands-on participants in school meal programs. The purpose of this research project was to identify the specific strategies schools and stakeholders utilize to successfully engage

students to promote school nutrition (SN) program participation and healthy eating within the context of the SN program.

Methods: Purposive sampling techniques identified a diverse sample of SN program stakeholders to capture the broadest range of perspectives. School nutrition program stakeholders included representatives from allied organizations that support SN programs, SN program industry vendors, school foodservice management companies, and a diverse sample of SN program professionals representing different USDA, FNS regions, and school district sizes. Researchers conducted semi-structured interviews through videoconferencing technology. The interview transcripts were analyzed to identify themes related to student engagement.

Results: Results revealed that student engagement strategies focused on being aware of student preferences, implementing interactive nutrition education and food awareness activities, involving students in decisions related to the SN program, encouraging whole school community involvement, and collaborating to accomplish activities.

Conclusions and Applications: Based on the results of this study, researchers recommend the following strategies:

  • Recognize student needs and preferences by developing the menu based on students’ food choices and interests, including local foods, fresh foods, and offering food choices in accessible locations such as Grab and Go or food trucks.
  • Include nutrition education and food awareness initiatives through school gardening, farm to school initiatives, and cooking clubs or classes. Nutrition education integrated throughout the curriculum was described as a method to continuously expose the students to all aspects of the food cycle.
  • Engage students in interactive activities such as competitions, challenges against peers, interactive games, digital games, and award incentives.
  • Engage students in the school meal program decisions and appoint students as ambassadors or advisory committee members.
  • Involve the whole school community in activities such as gathering feedback from students, parents, staff, and teachers through advisory committees, surveys, focus groups, and taste-test events.
  • Collaborate with dietitians, policy makers, grant funders, federal program representatives, culinary experts, and community members to accomplish activities.

Providing Meal Service During the COVID-19 Pandemic: School Nutrition
Program Directors and State Agency Staff Experiences
Keith Rushing, PhD, RD; Kymberle Gordon, PhD; Amber Wade; Patrick Garmong; Marjuyua Lartey, PhD, RDN;
Jeannie Sneed, PhD, RD, CP-FS.
Institute of Child Nutrition, Applied Research Division, The University of Southern Mississippi

Introduction: The COVID-19 pandemic brought about swift, unprecedented changes to our nations’ schools. The purpose of this research was to identify School Food Authority (SFA) and

State Agency (SA) perceived barriers to school meal preparation and service as well as their intentions to mitigate challenges and navigate concerns during the Fall 2020 school year, amidst the pandemic.

Methods: Researchers conducted focus groups with school nutrition program (SNP) professionals (N=23), including 18 SFA directors and five SA directors (n=5) representing small, medium, and large school district sizes, and all seven Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) regions.

Results: Findings from this study unveiled: challenges that SNPs faced; experiences transitioning to and/or developing emergency feeding service models; lessons learned, and silver linings amidst nationwide school closures during the early months of the pandemic (March-July 2020), as well as areas where guidance and support can be devoted for the upcoming school year.

The Impact of School Food Procurement in the Mississippi Delta 
Alicia Landry, PhD, RD, LDN, SNS. University of Central Arkansas; Jessica Thomson, PhD;
Tameka Walls, PhD. Delta Human Nutrition Research Program, USDA Agricultural Research Service

Introduction: The objective of the present study was to determine school food procurement amounts (weight and cost) in two Mississippi school districts to illustrate the potential economic and agricultural impacts of purchasing local foods for use in school meals.

Methods: School food procurement data from two school districts (one participating in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program [FFVP] and one not participating) located in the rural Mississippi Delta were collected for this observational study. Data collection covered two academic years, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020. Research staff members, trained in nutritional methodology, coded and classified foods into eight categories – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, dairy, added sugars, fats, and miscellaneous. Summary statistics (food group amounts and percentages) were computed for descriptive purposes.

Results: For the non-FFVP district, the largest procurement amounts for fruit and vegetable categories were juices and potatoes, while for the FFVP district, they were apples and potatoes. The varieties of fruits and vegetables procured for the FFVP district were larger than the non-FFVP district (16-18 vs. 12 different fruits; 19-20 vs. 17-18 different vegetables). For both districts and years combined, 146,678 pounds of fruit and 100,779 pounds of vegetables were purchased.

Conclusions and Applications: Although school districts purchase substantial amounts of fruits and vegetables, very little is procured locally. Enhancing readily available identification of local items, offering training opportunities focused on rural and small school districts regarding how to procure local foods within constraints, and continuing efforts like the Farm to School Census are all ways to promote procurement of local items. Likewise, engagement of school administrators with local producers is necessary for mutually beneficial effects on school nutrition programs and local agricultural economies.


Keith Rushing, PhD, RD; James T. Johnson, PhD; Sandra Curwood, PhD, RDN; Jeannie Sneed, PhD, RD, CP-FS. Institute of Child Nutrition, Applied Research Division, The University of Southern Mississippi                                                                 

Purpose / Objectives

The purpose of this study was to identify and prioritize training needs to determine preferences for training formats, delivery methods, length of training, and the best time of year for training. In addition, the use, and reasons for use or nonuse, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN) educational resources were explored.