Sandy Voss isn’t a writer, but her work is a must read for homes in Glendale Heights, Glen Ellyn and other DuPage communities.
The director of food and nutrition services for Marquardt School District 15 in Glendale Heights, who also directs the nutrition programs in Glen Ellyn District 41, Queen Bee District 16 and St. Matthew Parish School in Glendale Heights, got a call one day from a Realtor.
“She goes, ‘I just want to tell you, Sandy, that your menu looks delicious,’” Voss said. “… She said, ‘I sell a lot of houses in Glen Ellyn and every refrigerator had this menu on it and I kept looking, thinking ‘Why does everyone have the same thing on their refrigerator?’ Then I figured out it’s school lunch.’ … She said, ‘As Realtors, we work to market ourselves. You’re doing a good job of marketing.’”
Along with sending the lunch and breakfast menus home with nutritional information, she also posts the meal plans and nutritional information online.
“I try to be as transparent with people as possible,” Voss said.
Not only are parents trusting their children’s breakfast and lunch nutrition to Voss, children are gobbling up her work.
Voss coordinates more than 4,000 lunches, 2,000 breakfasts and 200 after-school snacks daily for students in the three school districts and one private school.
Her efforts in school nutrition and contributions to student health led the Illinois School Board of Education to name her the 2018 Illinois School Nutrition Champion.
“Sandy goes above and beyond her role as director of food and nutrition, and she does so in unique ways,” said Arnie Gasbarro, assistant superintendent of finance and operation for Marquardt, who nominated Voss for the honor. “For example, she started a Young Chefs Club to teach middle school students cooking skills in order to plan and prepare healthy meals. This popular club has given students multiple opportunities to share their knowledge and skills at district events.”
As a member of the Marquardt District’s Wellness Committee, Voss reviews programs and policies to encourage healthy lifestyles in students. She has pursued extra support and opportunities for students through the national Fuel Up to Play 60 program, a nutrition and physical activity program.
Voss’ work does not end when school ends for the summer. She helps facilitate the Northern Illinois Food Bank Summer Backpack Program to feed local families during the summer months.
She noted that food quality and safety are her utmost concerns when creating meals for the students.
Having a central kitchen and taking food out to locations puts some limitations on what Voss can offer for students’ dining pleasure.
“It gets a little bit tricky,” Voss said of the limited equipment she has to work with in bringing hot and cold meals to students. “If every school had an on-site kitchen, it would be amazing what scratch cooking and everything beautiful we could do.”
Facilities for student lunches weren’t even thought of when most of the schools Voss coordinates lunches for were built in the 1950s and ’60s.
“It was a community where kids walked home because the homes were right there and there wasn’t even the thought of (meals as) a service that a school was required to provide,” Voss said.
Voss said she makes sure that students getting free or reduced price lunches in the various districts are not treated any differently than pupils paying the regular fee.
“A meal is a meal is a meal to any child. That is very important to me,” Voss said. “No one knows what status you are. There is no difference in what you are offered. We take a lot of pride in that … The last thing you want to do is make a kid feel bad because 99.9 percent of the time it’s out of the child’s control, especially in a K-8 district like I am.”
Voss has tried to be creative in getting food to students who may need more food than what the standard school meal offers. She noted because the same federal calorie guidelines are set for everyone in kindergarten through grade 5 (middle schools have separate guidelines), it can be difficult for a more active fifth-grader to feel full with the standard school meal.
“We’ve done some things like share carts this year where if students aren’t going to eat all of their fruits or vegetables … they put it on a share cart – all the pre-packaged stuff like carrots or apple slices – and then kids who brought a home lunch or who are still hungry can grab things off the share cart,” Voss said. “It’s those little things that we try to do, that my staff works hard at.”
Voss earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in family and consumer science from Illinois State University and is a registered dietician and a credentialed school nutrition specialist. She also directs the Blessings in a Backpack program, which provides supplemental food for elementary students over weekends.
Voss will receive her award at the School Nutrition Program’s Back to School Conference in August.
“Sandy Voss understands how nutrition supports student learning and collaborates well with staff to achieve common goals,” Marquardt’s Gasbarro said. “For all that she does, we feel fortunate to have her as a staff member at Marquardt District 15.”
—Marquardt District 15 staffer named state’s School Nutrition Champion–