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High school cafeteria manager honored by School Nutrition Association for work feeding over 1,000 students

Maggie Oswalt and her staff said they were "very shocked, but very grateful" for the honor.
Cafeteria staff prepare meals for students
Posted at 8:49 PM, May 17, 2024

“We don’t want to just serve from box to oven,” said Maggie Oswalt. “So we do as much home making as we can."

Oswalt and her staff work at Kentucky's Great Crossing High School, a public school in Scott County just outside of Lexington.

Each day they rush to work to fill bags, cut fruit and vegetables, and plate up those healthier options, including their chicken salad.

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Oswalt was recognized as the Southeast Region Manager of the Year by the School Nutrition Association. The organization said it wanted to recognize "the tireless efforts of school nutrition professionals who ensure students across the country can benefit from healthy meals each school day."

“Very shocked, but very grateful,” was Oswalt's reaction when asked about winning the award.

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Oswalt manages a staff of 10 other employees who feed lunch and breakfast to more than 1,000 students every day.

“We churn out about 1,500 to 1,600 meals per day,” she said. It sounds like a lot, but Oswalt and her staff make it look easy.

The meals they prepare have to meet state nutritional standards, and students who are able to receive their taxpayer-provided meals courtesy of the school are asked to take the entire meal, to get the full nutritional benefits.

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The Cabinet for Health and Family Services in Kentucky says only 13% of high school students in the state eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables per day. That number is compared with 21% of high school students nationally.

A federal grant allows Scott County to offer meals to every student, and Oswalt — a nutritional specialist — is one of many cafeteria managers in her district who have taken on the task of organizing logistics for getting the students fed so they can go back to learning.

“The last thing a child should have to worry about when they come to school is 'How am I going to eat, or how am I going to pay for it?'” she said. “They’re conversing while enjoying a meal, their grades are going up, performance is going up — so yes, it's a big deal,” she said.

Oswalt has to keep track of which kids have food allergies to make certain to track those students, and steer them away from any danger.

“They're high school kids, so they’re usually pretty good about that,” she said.

She said, “If it’s something new, that they loved — and it’s healthy — then it’s something I want them to eat,” Oswalt said.

School Nutrition Association President Chris Derrico said, "School nutrition professionals are often unsung heroes in their schools, nourishing students for success and contributing positively to their school day. We appreciate the opportunity to celebrate their dedication and efforts to support children throughout the country."

This story was originally published by Michael Berk at Scripps News Lexington.