Debbi Beauvais, RDN SNS
SCHOOL NUTRITION DIRECTOR
for something nutrishus
Debbi has been working in school nutrition for 15 plus years. She had a lot to say and I'm happy to share her responses. She is correct that you need to actually ask a dietitian what they do, because we're doing lots of different things, things we can't even imagine until we're actually out working in the field. As a Canadian working in a very different area of dietetics, this was very informative to me. I work in schools, but I do so in a teaching/facilitating role, not in management. Debbi is also a strong advocate for our profession and gives-back/volunteers as such.
Why did you become a RD?
I actually went to school thinking I was going to be the next Barbara Walters-Communication Major. Never even knew about the field of Dietetics. Several women on my dorm floor were in Nutrition and Dietetics…..went and checked it out and the rest is history. Actually, my mom always worked when I was growing up thus I did a lot of the cooking for the family so had an interest in food. Mom’s rule for dinner: two vegetables, a meat, and a starch. Not a bad plan! :0)
Funny story though; I only took Earth Science and Biology in high school as I had a Music Major and 4 years of Math. Had to take a summer Chemistry course to get on track to change majors.
What area of dietetics do you work in?
As a Dietetic Intern at St. Louis University, the Food Service Director interviewed me for a position and asked me what I wanted to be doing in 5 years…..I said a Chief Clinical Dietitian. He said he had seen me in the kitchen and that I had a knack for people and management. In turn, he was instrumental in changing my career path to the Management side of Dietetics. I spent 15 years; 6 different positions, with a Contract Management Company in Healthcare Food Service Management. In 1991 I married and in 1993 had my first child. That put me on “mommy duty” for a few years; 2nd child came in 1995. I was doing a variety of part time things just to stay busy: Teaching Nutrition at a local community college, working at a supermarket cooking school, nutrition consulting at a health club, and also had a business called “Let’s Talk Food & Nutrition” which had me doing corporate cooking demos and wellness talks. Four different briefcases for all my different roles.
In the year 2000, I interviewed and was hired for a position as School Lunch Director at Gates Chili Schools in Rochester, NY. 5500 students across 7 buildings, serving lunch at all buildings and breakfast at just two.
How would you explain what you do?
Working in a school setting I am always asked when I go and teach nutrition in the classroom; this is not my role at all. I am in charge of a School Nutrition Program that is a self-supporting program in the district. Thus school tax payer dollars do not fund my program. I am the largest “restaurant” you might say, in Gates, NY. Our funding comes from USDA in addition, to what we collect from customer sales. We must follow all the federal/state/county regulations for the operations of our programs: National School Breakfast and Lunch and also the Summer Food Service Program. We serve on average 900 breakfasts and 2400 lunches per day across all school buildings. In addition to these numbers, another 15,600 lunches, 12,000 breakfasts and 3,100 snacks over a 6 week period are served in our summer meals program. I also have customer contracts for meals with a day care center, small private school, and a BOCES (Board of Cooperative Educational Services) Alternative High School. For Gates Chili, the operating budget for the Meals program is just over $2,100,000.
What are your ‘typical’ daily/weekly tasks?
Obviously in Management, I believe, if you take care of your people, they will take care of your business. So a great deal of my time is spent on training and professional development with the team. Menu planning/nutritional analysis is a must to meet the strict federal regulations for all foods sold in schools (not just the breakfast and lunch meals). My greatest efforts are put in to the Food and Supply bids to get our goods and services at the best price. A tremendous amount of paperwork also uses my time to make sure I get all of the government reimbursements and food commodities we are entitled to. Since the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 was established, the paperwork has tripled thus my job framework is not as fluid in our schools as it had been previously. If there is one thing I will say about this profession ….you really have no idea how it operates and all the challenges it presents until you actually work in it.
What has been your career path?
In my School Meals role with Gates Chili Schools, I have expanded my scope of responsibility in the last 8 years. In 2008, I became the shared School Nutrition Director with a small 1100 student public school- East Rochester UFSD and in 2013 another was added; East Irondequoit which has 3000 students over 6 buildings. Both of these added districts serve breakfast, lunch, and have summer meals programs. My current scope is just over 8200 students across 15 locations serving meals 12 months a year. We strive daily to have something on the menu that every child wants to eat. We also evolve our programs to have the nutritional information available for parents of today who want to know more about what their kids are eating.
In addition, I give back to the profession of Dietetics. I am an internship preceptor for several internship programs in NY and distance learning too. It is incredibly important that up and coming RDNs have an understanding of this specific Food Service Management business segment. I promise you they come away with a much different picture of School Meal Operations and the challenges, etc. after spending time with us. I am proud to say that I recently was able to create a School Nutrition Coordinator position in my program and hired a young lady that worked with me as a volunteer, student, and dietetic intern. That is everything coming full circle!
On the volunteer side of the profession – I have been very active with the Local, State and National School Nutrition Associations (SNA). I was NY School Nutrition State President in 2012-2013 and from there, I jumped to the national organization as a member of the Education Committee. I was then elected to the position of Northeast Regional Director and Regional Director Chair in 2015-2016. I was recently elected and will take office in July at our SNA Annual National Conference as Secretary/Treasurer. I am so honored, humbled, and excited to take on this new leadership role. In the mix of these volunteer commitments, I was also appointed as an Academy Spokesperson (served 4 years) in the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Spokesperson Program.
What advanced education or special training do you have?
In addition to my RDN (Registered Dietitian Nutritionist), I also hold the credential SNS (School Nutrition Professional). The SNS credential is achieved by taking a National accredited exam and the content is specific to School Nutrition Regulations, Management, and Procurement.
In an ideal world, what does the industry look like 5 years from now?
With the onset of technology and anybody being able to “Google” answers for their nutrition questions be it wellness or for a specific disease state, I have a real concern for our profession. It is more important than ever that RDNs in every segment have to continue to advocate for the profession and share in very clear terms, why those of us in our profession are the true nutrition experts. What sets us apart is that our information is research and science based. RDNs have to have a voice to “debunk” those that call themselves nutritionists and food & nutrition experts and offer the latest and greatest diet trend to get the pounds off.
What would you like people to know about RDs?
RDNs come from diverse educational backgrounds with a minimum educational requirement of a Bachelor of Science Degree meeting a very specific curriculum to obtain a Dietetic Internship which in turn prepares them to sit for the national accreditation RDN exam. RDNs hold a variety of talents based on each person’s individual career goals and post graduate education. I happen to be an expert in Food Management, Sanitation and Food Safety in both Healthcare and K-12 Schools. When chatting with someone that is a Registered Dietitian; ask them more about what they do in the profession and what their expertise is as it may very well surprise you.
What are challenges you encounter as a RD?
In the world of School Meals – “Everyone is an expert,” at what I get paid to do for a living, because everyone eats. Food is a relatable and opinion-based topic for any conversation. Many do not realize that those running the School Meals Programs in their community are educated professionals such as RDNs…….not just “Lunch Ladies.” We have to “toot our horns” a bit loudly about our programs and what we are doing….as 9 times out of 10 it is a perception that people have about the program that is NOT THE REALITY. School Meals are nothing like what I saw as a child when I was in grade school in the 60s and 70s. Yes, I can stand behind why we serve chocolate milk in schools with science. I can defend the regulations encouraging more whole grains, increased fruit and vegetable consumption along with reduced fat, saturated fat, sodium, and calories. I also can stand by the meals we serve as being great nutrition options for growing children as school food is manufactured to meet very stringent regulations……..all pizza and chicken nuggets are not created equal. Have questions about your school meals program where your children go to school – ask them, find out the ABC’s of school meals. I am sure you will learn a lot that might surprise you.
What is your favorite meal?
I am a comfort food gal all the way – home baked decadent Macaroni & Cheese. I always have water or low-fat/FF milk with my meals – I was raised/and raised my family that Soda or Pop is a party food. See, mom was not an RDN but, had some good common sense nutrition philosophies!
What tip(s) would you give to our readers?
Have questions about your school meals program where your children go to school – ask them, find out the ABC’s of school meals. I am sure you will learn a lot that might surprise you…...you may even find an RDN at the helm!
More about Debbi:
Facebook: Deborah Beauvais
Facebook Page: “Lunch Lady” Chronicles
LinkedIn: Debbi Beauvais RDN SNS