Schools’ Food Service Chief Finds A Recipe For Success

June 15, 2021

Mansfield School System/Regional School District 19 Food Service Director Stephanie Deason is not just someone in charge of serving lunch.

She’s a leader in the local food movement as she and her staff serve nutritious, locally-grown food at the schools.

And, one of the recipes they use recently received national attention.

Deason’s recipe for kale-zucchini bread was one of four published in School Nutrition Magazine in March as part of the “Better For You Baked Goods” story.

“It was a surprise when I heard about it,” Deason said.

Bethany Bell from the American Egg Board informed the magazine about the recipe, which Deason created as a way to introduce two local ingredients — kale and zucchini — to students.

According to the American Egg Board’s website, the organization’s mission is to support America’s egg farmers and increase demand for eggs and egg products.

The bread is served at the Thanksgiving meal in the Mansfield School District, as well as during special events.

“It’s such an honor for our school district to have Stephanie’s recipe featured in this national publication,” Mansfield Superintendent of School Kelly Lyman said in a press release. “Stephanie is an extension of our educational team, continually exposing our students to new foods and healthy eating.

“The food services staff have gone above and beyond to ensure all our students have been fed and fed well whether students are attending school in-person or learning from home.

“We are fortunate to have a food service director with this commitment who is also devoted to sourcing local foods and producing creative meals.”

Deason said she doesn’t consider herself to be a cook or chef — although she is married to one — so when she learned her recipe was going to be in the magazine, it was a “special moment.”

“I’m not a big baker,” she said.

Deason has been working for the two school districts since August 2016.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from the University of Connecticut in 2011 and a masters degree in health promotion and education from UConn in 2013.

Before Deason’s current job, she worked as a registered dietician for The Caring Community of Connecticut Inc., in Colchester, which operates 15 group homes.

Earlier this year, Deason was recognized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service for the work she and the rest of her staff have done during the pandemic.

“Thank you for your extraordinary commitment and hard work in planning, preparing, serving and distributing safe and nutritious meals, while setting students up for success,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service Acting Administrator Cindy Long said in a letter to Deason.

“Your community’s school nutrition story was shared recently with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service by your state agency as an exemplary representation of how local program operators were empowered to ensure that no child goes hungry during this time.”

Students who were fully remote or hybrid learners were able to get a food package once a week from their school, including lunches and breakfasts.

At one point, Deason said they served about 55 families of remote learners and it has “dwindled down quite a bit,” noting many students have since returned to in-person learning as the school year winds down.

The food services staff was recognized as “community heroes” by state Rep. Gregory Haddad, D-Mansfield, on May 1, 2020, for its work during the pandemic.

May 1 is known as “National School Lunch Hero Day.”

“It’s great when the local leaders get involved and recognize what we’re doing,” Deason said, noting Haddad has come to many “Taste of Mansfield” events in the past.

As part of Taste of Mansfield, a group that started in spring 2017, the food services staff has built a network of people supporting local farmers and promoting the local food movement.

Prior to the pandemic, Deason held community meals at the schools that featured local ingredients.

In March, she testified before the state legislature’s education committee in support of funding for the CT Grown for CT Kids grant program through House Bill 6621, which was approved later that month.

She found opportunities to talk about the local food movement or highlight local farms on the school menus during the pandemic.

“I think it’s really important for them to understand food systems and really, where our food comes from,” Deason said, referring to the students.

“A lot of kids might not realize how a vegetable might grow or how we can grow so many different types of food in New England.”

Deason said it was important to “keep local alive,” though they could not do that at the level they wanted to, due to budgetary and time constraints.

For example, typically the staff freezes and vacuum seals local ingredients, such as kale, tomatoes and squash, during the summer so they can be used off-season.

This summer, however, they did not do that because the middle school was being used as an emergency food distribution site.

The article on her recipe can be viewed at the following link: https://bit.ly/3wrhkBX

Follow Michelle Warren on [email protected]


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