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Dietetic Internship: Food Service Rotation

I completed my 5 week food service rotation with St. Paul Public Schools here in Minnesota. SPPS is one of the largest, most diverse school districts in the state, serving around 37,000 student in 60 schools, with 70% of students receiving free and reduced lunch. If you're not familiar with free and reduced lunch, it is made possible through a federal assistance program called the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). With federal assistance comes requirements that need to be met, which is one area where the nutrition team comes into play.

The big project I worked on while I was with SPPS was a special meal project. Essentially, I saw a meal through the whole process, starting with inventory and procurement and ending with serving the meal. Luckily for me, SPPS has a centralized nutrition services building and commissary kitchen, so I was able to meet with everyone involved in the process. I started with the district purchasing analyst and nutrition coordinator, then worked with the nutrition supervisor on site at one of the schools and finished with one of the quality control specialists.

All of this was to create a meal that would meet the NSLP nutrient requirements. While this doesn't seem too exciting for most people (and it wasn't at times), my project was unique in that the school I worked with was a special education school that serves different levels of dysphagia diets. Dysphagia is difficulty chewing or swallowing, and the different levels are a variety of pureed and ground textures. This was something I had to pay attention to in designing my menu, as these meals are made in the kitchen at the school, and not everything purees well. Overall, I learned a lot about the application of special diets in a public school system, and my experience in the school led me to creating an in-service for staff about dysphagia and why we need to pay close attention to the specific needs of students.

It just so happened that another one of my projects was to create and deliver an in-service. The dysphagia in-service was one that I did not get to personally present on, but the quality control specialist I was working with took it to use in any new hire training from here on out (which I thought was super cool). The second in-service I created was on safety data sheets, which are necessary, but not interesting at all. The commissary kitchen's SDS binder hadn't been updated in over 10 years, so it really needed to be done. Once I had gone through the kitchen, gathered the chemicals used, and created an updated SDS binder, I presented on the importance of the SDS to the kitchen staff.

Aside from those two projects, a lot of my rotation was spent working with a variety of district employees and getting experience in all of the little day-to-day duties they have. Some of these included:

-Working with the QI specialist on redesigning cafeterias to increase efficiency and give students more time to eat, and worked with the school behavior specialists to figure out a way to improve behavior in the lunchroom

-Weekly visits to schools to observe the lunchroom staff and get feedback from students about the staff and the food

-Designing monthly menus and marketing materials for some of their district-specific programs

-Working with the head chef to create a recipe and video lesson for a program to introduce students to new foods (this year was kale, woohoo!)

-Performing a cost-benefit analysis of a new piece of equipment the kitchen purchased

-Completing a mock health department audit of the commissary kitchen

-Redesigning the commissary's warehouse to increase efficiency and improve workflow

Overall, it was not the most unique rotation, but I learned a ton about different government programs, food service standards in actions, as just generally how unique SPPS is. The site gave me a lot of opportunity and variety, and introduced me to an environment I was unfamiliar with.


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