The Baby in the Bunch, the Story of a Young Food Services Director, by Regina O’Campo
We close our series on Sanger Unified School District with a guest blog and two of her students’ favorite recipes.
Ann and Georgeanne
It was my first day on the job as the Food Services Director for a small school district in the central valley of California and I was eager to get started. I had just graduated with my Bachelors of Science in Dietetics and Food Administration in May 2001 and was already starting my first professional job in July 2001. I was only 21 years old, but full of knowledge and passion.
I had worked all morning to pump myself up to meet my new staff and was confident that things would go well. I had a staff of 12 kitchen employees and I was the youngest one in the bunch, by far. I introduced myself, asked them to introduce themselves, and went on to tell them about my vision for the department. I had lots of questions and did my best to answer them. Everything seemed to go well, until a few days later when one of the employees told me that I was too young to know how to run a kitchen and should “just let them do their jobs”.
I stood my ground, as I had done many times with my older siblings, and reminded this employee that I had worked extremely hard for the last 4 years to earn my position and that my intension was to improve the department and their work environment. After numerous weekly staff meetings, menu planning sessions, and goal setting meetings (all of which were new to the staff), my staff came to understand that I was there to help them and make their jobs easier while feeding our students healthy, safe meals that met state/federal requirements.
The fact that they were able to provide input and it was actually considered before finalizing decisions (menus, staffing, recipes, procedures), made it much easier for them to accept me as their leader. As a child, I was taught to work hard and strive for greatness, but not to step on others on my way up. This was my philosophy as I grew within my leadership position.
On my one year anniversary on the job, I asked my staff to honestly evaluate me in writing, anonymously. A week later I received 12 evaluations and I was honored by the words they wrote about me. They described me as humble, honest, intelligent, compassionate, and thanked me for making them a stronger, more united team. They all expressed that, under my leadership, the department and work environment had greatly improved.
I learned that allowing others to be a part of the major decisions and making them feel “heard” made for a strong team oriented environment and a happy, productive staff. During my first few years as a food service director, I attended every seminar, training, workshop, and conference available to learn all that I could about the Child Nutrition programs and my profession. This included being part of the California School Nutrition Association (CSNA) and the California Association of School Business Officials (CASBO). I learned a great deal by simply interacting with my counter parts from other school districts and attending workshops presented by the California Department of Education, Nutrition Services Division.
I am now in my 13th year as a food service professional and I continue to learn every day. I make it a point to teach others what I have learned so that they may also grow professionally and personally. I continue to be part of CSNA and CASBO because they allow me to spread the word about the great things in Child Nutrition programs to the masses and to receive information that I otherwise would not have been privileged to. I am eager to embark on the new adventures my career in Child Nutrition will take me on!
The Recipes: Enchiladas and Pico de Gallo
We asked Regina to share a favorite recipe. She chose 2 recipes that she serves together and that, as she says, the kids in Sanger really seem to enjoy. Secondary students get 2 enchiladas and elementary students get 1 each. The enchiladas use commodity turkey taco meat and commodity cheeses, canned USDA pinto beans and a touch of granulated garlic, black pepper, & cumin. On “enchilada day” she serves pinto beans and pico de gallo on the salad bar in addition to what is listed below. Her pico de gallo recipe is very basic (tomato, onion, jalapeño, cilantro, lime juice) and made that day by her staff with fresh ingredients. This recipe is from her home.
She serves a salad bar every day at lunch (lettuce, spinach, tomato, cucumber, baby carrots, garbanzo beans, broccoli, fresh local fruit like peaches-plums-nectarines-oranges-grapes-strawberries, and a canned fruit every day) and on enchilada day she serves pinto beans and Pico de Gallo on the bar.
Click Enchilada-Turkey Recipe to view.
Click Pico de Gallo Recipe to view.