In 2018, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provided over 4.8 billion meals to students in nearly 100,000 schools. Additionally, the School Breakfast Program (SBP) delivered 2.4 billion meals to students in nearly 90,000 schools.1 The current federal reimbursement rates are often not enough to cover the costs of these free and reduced cost meals. As a result, many districts face a deficit in their school nutrition budget and need to be creative in how they develop menus and prepare food for students. Foodservice operators rely on partnerships with manufacturers and nutrition experts to help them balance the need for cost-effective, easy to execute, nutritious and kid-friendly solutions. A member of our Campbell Nutrition team, Jennifer McQuillan, NDTR, School Nutrition Specialist (SNS), works passionately with foodservice operations to provide meal solutions that meet their demands. I sat down with McQuillan to learn more about how she advocates to improve the nutritional quality of foodservice offerings and partners with school nutrition programs.
McQuillan first became interested in school nutrition programs when her children were early school aged. She recalls, “We had a veggie garden in our yard and my kids, along with other young neighbors, would grow, and pick veggies, then create recipes and snacks in my kitchen. I was able to introduce and provide a positive experience while trying new foods. This grew my passion to be a part of providing nutrition while away from home.”
Unique Needs of School Nutrition Programs
The National School Lunch Program works to provide low-cost, balanced meals that fuel students for success. Other programs, including breakfast and snacks, also have specific requirements. Participating schools must serve meals that meet federal nutrition and strict food safety standards while staying on a tight budget. McQuillan states, “The most challenging part of working as an expert in school nutrition is developing products and meal solutions that fit within these constraints and meet taste and visual appeal expectations. We also need to monitor current trends, changes in policy, and new technologies that can help foodservice operators be successful."
Providing Products and Meal Solutions
School nutrition experts like McQuillan are an essential part of the product development process. During product formulation, she uses her expertise to evaluate opportunities to increase vegetable and whole grain servings and decrease nutrients like sodium and added sugars. Once products are finalized, McQuillan establishes labeled nutrition data, recommends product claims and calculates child nutrition meal contributions. This and other detailed information is shared in our K-12 Foodservice Product Guide to ease menu planning and purchasing for operators and School Food Authorities.
McQuillan’s nutrition expertise makes her an important resource for schools beyond providing correct and accurate information. She speaks directly with key stakeholders in schools at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference to get feedback on our products and meal solutions. This information and McQuillan’s partnership help Campbell adapt to the market, improve products, and innovate.
Recipe Development Teamwork
It’s not enough to provide products that meet school nutrition criteria. We also develop innovative and simple meal solutions, to help operators be successful with our products. McQuillan’s favorite part of her job is working with our culinary experts in the Campbell Test Kitchens. During recipe projects she participates in recipe tastings, establishes nutrition targets, shares industry trends, calculates meal contributions, conducts nutritional analyses and even prepares recipes for photo shoots! She shares, “It’s important to keep in mind operator constraints, including limited space and resources, when building recipes. Something as simple as providing our culinary team with a list of commodity food items that schools typically have on hand, can make the process easier and more effective. The recipes need to be easy to prepare, budget-friendly and of course, kid-friendly.” With changing trends in meal distribution needs, McQuillan participates in the ideation process to create recipes that fit different service methods, such as combinations for breakfast in the classroom and grab and go options for lunch.
Connect with Us
McQuillan wraps up our conversation with this thought, “As trends, policies and meal distribution processes change, we provide solutions that are nutritious, delicious and easy to serve. If you are a health professional working in any foodservice segment, we are here to help and partner with you.” Reach out to us with any questions, concerns or recommendations for our team, chances are that Jennifer McQuillan will be one of the experts that helps you.
Kate & Jennifer
Kate Williams received her bachelor's degree in dietetics from the University of Delaware and completed her dietetic internship at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. She has over ten years of experience in a variety of nutrition-related practice areas including clinical nutrition, weight management counseling, health and wellness and nutrition education. Kate has worked as a nutrition consultant to the Campbell Soup Company since 2005.
Jennifer works as a Senior Nutrition Analyst with the Nutrition team at Campbell’s, where she has worked since 2012. She provides nutrition support and collaborates with culinary, product development as well as sales and marketing partners within Foodservice business units. Her responsibilities include calculating and upholding documents essential for child nutrition programs and customer requests, assessing products to provide nutritional guidance during product development, and recipe development while maintaining the central recipe management system used for company-wide recipe projects. Jennifer has experience in a variety of nutrition-related jobs, including hospital menu management implementation, product nutrition database development, child nutrition and customer service. She received her Bachelor of Science in Food and Nutrition from Saint Elizabeth in Morristown, NJ. Jennifer is a Registered Dietetic Technician and School Nutrition Specialist.
- School Meal Trends & Stats Accessed June 29th, 2020.