Allison Johnson, MS, SNS, Food Service Director, Foxborough, MA
Allison Johnson has been the food service director at Foxborough Public Schools for just 3 years but has already made lasting change. Allison has been steadfast in her mission to provide healthy, well-balanced meals with as many local ingredients as possible. She brought scratch cooking back to Foxborough to help meet the new 2010 nutrition guidelines and won employee buy-in by allowing staff to offer their own opinions and recipe suggestions to be a part of the changes. Allison is making healthy eating more appealing and fun to students by offering real fruit smoothies, bringing salad bars into every Foxborough school and launching her own lunchroom nutrition education program.
She was also awarded grant money from the New England Dairy Council to purchase industrial blenders to offer smoothies for lunch. Students are encouraged to purchase a “smoothie lunch” which includes a real fruit smoothie, whole grain pretzel, side salad, and milk. Offering interesting, fun, and creative healthy menu items has helped Foxborough students make healthier choices.When the new nutrition guidelines brought big changes, Allison saw the salad bar as a way to meet the new guidelines while giving students more “choosing power.” After the success of a piloted salad bar at one Foxborough school, Allison applied for the Whole Foods Salad Bars 2 Schools grant. Allison explains that giving students the choice to pick their own healthy items and portions from the salad bar helped increase student acceptance of the new meals by making them feel that they had more control over their selections.
Allison has also used her nutrition education expertise to create a tailored elementary school nutrition program called “Food Explorers.” The program uses taste tests and education exclusively in the lunchroom to encourage students to try new foods. Allison found that students were much more likely to try new fruits and vegetables with their friends than when urged by parents or other adults. “Food Explorers” teaches elementary-aged kids about the required vegetables subgroups and explains how food is grown, harvested and delivered from farms to schools and supermarkets. With another grant from the New England Dairy Council she was able to purchase a flat-screen TV monitor for the cafeteria to use for the education sessions. Allison created excitement around the vegetable taste test by allowing students to vote for their favorite green vegetable with a poll displayed in the lunchroom. Allison also sent a newsletter home reporting the “Food Explorers” activities and she launched a school-wide recipe contest to get parents and students involved.
The success of Allison’s initiatives and nutrition programing can be measured by climbing meal participation numbers that initially fell when the 2010 nutrition guidelines when into effect. Allison will continue to put efforts toward both large scale and simple lunchroom changes to foster an environment that makes it easy for kids to make healthy choices. She makes the extra effort to display colorful, eye-catching signage, encourages the lunchroom staff to allow kids to try healthy items before they purchase them, and uses evidence-based product placement to increase fruit and vegetable sales in the cafeteria. Allison is clear that her mission is not only to offer healthy, well-balanced meals but also to increase the number of nutritious meals eaten and enjoyed. Her goal is to help students develop healthy food habits that they will carry with them and allow them lead happy and healthy lives.
Image source: Paula Quatromoni, DSc, MS, RD, Boston University