Meet Kate Gillihan: Klein ISD Dietitian and Menu Planner
In celebrating National School Lunch Week we sat down with Kate Gillihan, the Dietitian and Menu Planner for Klein ISD. Read on to catch a glimpse of Kate’s “day in the life” as the Dietitian and Menu Planner for our district, and what this week means to her.
Can you elaborate on the importance of the National School Lunch Program and how it benefits our students?
The National School Lunch Program provides healthy meals to students in the district at an affordable price. The program covers students in the nation and serves students from every background. This school year, Klein ISD is providing free breakfasts and lunches to every student through the USDA waiver provided to all public school districts. This waiver is available through December 31, 2020. We also follow regulations from the Federal government to make sure our meals are healthy and offer 5 different components: low-fat milk, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, meats, or meat alternatives.
What does a typical workday as the Klein ISD Dietician Menu Planner look like for you?
Well, every day is different. I spend time working on menus, changing things that may not have worked as well as I thought, including switching out for seasonal vegetables on menus. I also create special diets for students with life-threatening allergies. I go to schools throughout the district just making sure everything is going okay and talk to some of the students to see what they like and don’t like. I create content for our menu boards and our online menus. I spend a lot of time taste testing and picking out new items for future recipes.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role, especially right now during such uncertain times?
In a typical school year, just figuring out what our students want to eat and what they want on their menu can be a total challenge. We pick out our foods and recipes, create our menus way in advance, usually months ahead of time. Usually, we plan the menu for the next year starting in October the year before, so I have to look into a crystal ball and predict what the kids are going to want to eat next year. I also have to balance foods that take a lot of prep time with foods that don’t take as much prep time, as well as healthy food options with foods that the students like to eat. The menu drives participation with the department, so if students don’t like the menu, they won’t eat with us. This year specifically, we’ve had challenges with getting products from our distributor, planning for extra packaging, and procedures that we have to follow with evolving rules and regulations.
What makes your job so rewarding for you?
My favorite part of the job is definitely our students. I love it when they say they love the food! I especially love it when it’s a recipe I created or a meal I thought they would like and they tell me that’s their favorite thing on the menu. The high school students especially are my favorite because they’re the pickiest and most opinionated about the food, so if they tell me that they’re liking something, that’s a win! Also, just working with everyone in our Klein Food Services Department is rewarding to see what everybody does to prepare for our kids and families.
What makes Klein ISD’s Nutrition & Food Services department a step above the rest?
We do a lot of things in Klein that I am proud of. We make homemade bread, kolaches, and everyone’s favorite- our Friday morning cinnamon rolls. We just have great customer service. Every time I go to a school I’m so impressed with how the cashiers and the servers all know the students’ names that come through the line. They’re so friendly and happy. Even in our Klein2Go program, our people on the curb working recognize people with a “ hey, you’re back again and see you next week” so it’s really great to see the customer service we provide in Klein ISD.
Thank you Kate for all you do for our district and the students of Klein ISD.
Please continue to help us celebrate National School Lunch Week by showing your appreciation for our amazing Klein ISD Nutrition & Food Services team for dedicating their time to ensure that families in our community have nutritious meals!
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About Klein ISD
Klein ISD is a school district in Klein, Texas located in northwestern Harris County. The district spans approximately 87.5 square miles and serves more than 54,000 students in 33 elementary schools, 10 intermediate campuses, one high school program of choice, and 5 high schools.
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