School Lunch, a Conversation with Director of Nutrition and Wellness Camille Unruh
Monday, August 23, 2021
We sat down with Camille Unruh, director of the Nutrition and Wellness Department, to discuss various nutrition and wellness topics, from the benefits of eating healthy meals and snacks to serving free meals to all students this school year.
Camille, nutrition and wellness can encompass a lot, but if you had to narrow it down to just a short sentence about what you do for PVSchools, what would you say? You’re right, there is a lot to nutrition and wellness, but I’d say in short, I operate the various USDA Child Nutrition Programs for the district and manage the food service needs for all PVSchools.
Food service, meaning in part the National School Lunch Program, can you tell us more about that? The National School Lunch Program (NSLP), established in 1946, is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost, or no-cost lunches to children each school day. It’s not just that; we also operate the School Breakfast Program at all of our schools, in partnership with NSLP, so we’re able to provide students with a nutritious breakfast and lunch each school day.
Those nutritious meals can help students perform better academically, among other things. Are you seeing other benefits to starting the school day off with a full tummy? There are a number of benefits associated with eating a healthy breakfast, including improved academic performance, attention span, and behavior. Studies have shown that students who eat breakfast have fewer missed school days and fewer visits to the nurse. With this year’s free meals, we’re excited to help even more students succeed.
That’s right, PVSchools is offering free meals to all students for the 2021-22 school year. What led to that decision? The USDA extended the flexibilities allowing districts’ to operate the Seamless Summer Option for the entire 2021-2022 school year. We’re grateful that we can provide free breakfast and lunch daily to all of our students. It’s one less thing that parents need to worry about this school year, and we’re hoping more students take advantage of the opportunity.
Even though PVSchools is offering free meals this school year, why is it still necessary for families who qualify for free and reduced meals to fill out the Free and Reduced Meals Application? Yes, completing the 2021-2022 School Year Free and Reduced Meal Application is still very important! It’s not just meals; there are a number of reasons to fill out the form. Take eligibility to receive Pandemic EBT, funding for student programs and services, eligibility for discounted rates on internet services, reduced registration fees for Advanced Placement (AP), SAT, and/or ACT tests, and discounted rates on fees associated with applying for college and other extracurricular programs for example.
Each year, public school districts offer free and reduced meals to qualifying students. Can you tell us more about the criteria to qualify for this program? What are the benefits? We encourage all parents to submit a free and reduced meal application annually regardless of their income. Each year, the application’s income eligibility guidelines are adjusted. Depending on where the family’s household income falls within these guidelines, they may qualify for free or reduced meals at school. In PVSchools, we have decided not to charge for the reduced category either, so it will still be completely free for students. Also, the meal applications can be used as qualification for a number of other benefits aside from school meals, such as discounted rates on internet services, reduced registration fees for AP, SAT, and/or ACT tests, and other discounts.
How do families complete and submit the Free and Reduced Meals Application? That’s a great question! We have paper applications available at each school. Once completed, just turn it in to the school kitchen manager. Online applications can also be completed at the EZMealApp website.
The Nutrition and Wellness Department serves an impressive amount of meals each school year; the big cafeteria debate is pizza or mini waffles and chicken strips. What’s the most popular meal being served? Our department serves 15,000-17,000 meals daily between breakfasts, lunches, and snacks. And yes, some of our most popular meals include the Mini Waffles and Chicken Strips, Wild Mike’s Pizza (Cheese and Pepperoni), Nachos with Taco Meat, and of course, the classic Chicken Nuggets with Wheat Roll.
Many parents review the meal menus and help their children select meal options that are being served in the cafeteria. How can parents and students access the menus? We actually encourage parents to help their children make menu selections. Menus are available on the district's Nutrition and Wellness webpage. Parents can print the menu and hang it on the refrigerator for easy reviewing access or view online menus through “My School Menus." For the online menu, parents just need to select which school their child attends and then pick either breakfast or lunch.
We’re curious to know more about what happens behind the scenes in the kitchens of our school cafeterias. What’s a typical day like for a Nutrition and Wellness employee? Our kitchens are incredibly busy, with the majority of our staff starting between 6-7 a.m. to begin breakfast preparation. Some of our sites feed 400-500 students daily; therefore, behind the scene, there is a lot of work to be done to get these meals ready for service. With meals being free this year, we have seen an increase in participation compared to last school year. In fact, we are looking for more kitchen staff at several locations, so if you are interested in working with us, please call the Nutrition and Wellness office at 602-449-2274!
Food is often something that brings people together. How has food played a role in your life, and did that spark your passion for Nutrition and Wellness? I have always been interested in nutrition, wellness, and fitness. I love food and love to cook; my mom started teaching me how to cook when I was eight years old, and it always brings back fond memories of spending time with my family. As an adult, I wanted to learn more about how nutrition impacts overall health. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Physiology from the University of Arizona. Actually, I went back to school to get a second Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition (Dietetics) from Arizona State University because I knew I wanted to work in the nutrition field.
So food has definitely played a significant role in your life, can we end the interview on a what if? Absolutely. What if you could have any meal all the time, what would it be? Without a doubt, it’s pizza! Any kind of pizza and any style – deep dish, thin crust, vegetarian, pepperoni, pineapple, etc.