What motivated you to choose this career?

I’ve always loved working with kids. My mom ran an in-home daycare when I was growing up, and I’m the oldest of four kids. I’ve coached youth sports since I was in high school and have been a mentor with Big Brothers/Big Sisters for 12 years. I really got into nutrition in college, but I didn’t know there was a profession where I could help kids access nutritious foods when I was completing my degree in agriculture. The opportunity eventually presented itself through my sister-in-law, who worked with the Missouri Department of Education. I’ve been an SNA and Missouri SNA member for 16 years and have attended 11 Annual National Conferences (ANCs). My favorite was St. Louis in 2019—it was really fun having ANC in my home state!

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would we find you?

On a beach in the Caribbean. I’ve had the opportunity to visit Mexico, Jamaica and the Bahamas. The blue waters of the Caribbean are my happy place!

Did you eat school meals as a child and, if so, what was your favorite?

Absolutely. Mrs. Ross in the elementary school cafeteria and Mrs. Rubel at the high school were a couple of my favorite people. I attended a small Catholic elementary school where 7th- and 8th-graders were required to assist in serving lunch and washing the trays later. Our reward was extra servings, so I loved helping out on days when Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes were on the menu!

If you didn’t have to sleep, what would you do with the extra time?

Read books! I love a good biography or to dive into a non-fiction book to expand my knowledge.

What’s one food that you hated as a child but have come to love as an adult?

Asparagus. I wouldn’t touch those green stalks as a kid, but I love them now—especially grilled with a little butter, garlic and pepper.

If you couldn’t work in school nutrition, what would be your next dream job?

Boat captain. I love being on the water and seeing others having a great time. Bringing the two together. watching guests make memories on excursions would be a cool gig.

What do you do to cheer yourself up on a bad day?

Cooking is my therapy. My family can always tell when it’s been a really long day, because I will head straight to the Kitchen to start preparing something—even if we’ve already had dinner.

Do you have a personal motto or words that you live by?

I was named for the Gospel of Matthew, and the name means “Gift From God.” That’s been my motto for as long as I can recall. In 2017, I used the letters to create a family motto with words that we would focus on throughout the year: “God, Integrity, Family, Trust, Faith, Relationship, Opportunity, Memories, Giving, Opulent, Discipline.” Our word for 2022 is Faith.


Matthew Essner, SNS

Senior Director of Sales

Columbia, Missouri