What was your favorite school meal as a child?

I always looked forward to school lunch. Pizza Day and Taco Salad Day were my favorites.

Share a little of your professional journey to K-12 school foodservice.

I wasn’t feeling fulfilled working in a corporate setting after college, so I went back to school to pursue a Food and Nutrition degree. A child nutrition course instantly lit a spark in me. My local school district welcomed interns in the student nutrition department. I was accepted and learned everything it takes to run a program—and I was hooked! The district hired me to be a middle school manager and after a few years, I took a Nutrition Specialist position with Pasco County Schools. I was promoted to my current position last year. I love working in this innovative, creative foodservice segment. It’s a career with a purpose.

Do you have a favorite global cuisine?

Caribbean. My mother is from Trinidad, and I grew up eating a lot of curries and stews. It’s comfort food and makes me feel like a kid again. It’s exciting to see some of the foods I grew up eating working their way into school meals.

What are your favorite meals to cook at home and to eat at a restaurant?

The first is shrimp and grits—simple, but the perfect match. My family always gets excited when I make that for dinner. At a restaurant, if there are braised beef short ribs on the menu, that is 100% what I’m going to order! I’m always on the hunt for ones that are as good or better than the amazing short ribs we had at our wedding.

When it comes to trying new foods, are you adventurous or cautious?

Definitely adventurous—I will try anything! I’ll ask servers for recommendations and try the specialties at new restaurants. I enjoy seeking out new trends and unique flavor combinations and then finding ways to incorporate those into the K-12 world. I remember when I first tried ceviche as a teenager. I’ll never forget how delicious it was and its balance between acidity and sweetness.

Name three foods you could happily subsist on if marooned with a lifetime supply on a desert island.

Roti and Tomato Choka (a Trinidadian dish that features roti bread and a sauce made with roasted tomatoes, garlic, onions and cilantro), pizza and any kids’ cereal variety, because it works for breakfast, snack or a dessert.

Is there a food you hated as a child but have come to embrace?

I wasn’t a fan of vegetables as a child and ate them only because I was told the were good for me. I’ve learned to be more adventurous with vegetables and now try different seasonings and cooking preparations. A few years ago, I subscribed to a “produce box” service and was introduced to several vegetables that I had never tried. That really helped expand my horizons.

Who would be on your celebrity dinner party guest list?

I’d invite Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Mindy Kaling, Maya Angelou, Madam C.J. Walker and Marie Curie.


Ashley Jones, SNS

Program Manager of Team Development

Pasco County, Florida

Pasco County (Fla.) Schools