The director of nutrition for Loudoun County Public Schools has been named Director of the Year by the School Nutrition Association.
Dr. Becky Domokos-Bays has been with the Virginia county for five years. She says that a focus on fresh and local produce helps to set Loudoun apart from other school nutrition programs.
“We focus on fresh foods as much as possible,” said Domokos-Bays. “Almost 10% of our produce budget we buy with locally grown, and regionally grown, and Virginia-grown food.”
The school district defines “local” as anything within a 250-mile radius of the administrative office, which allows schools to pull from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and even Delaware to get food that has been picked and delivered within a day or two to its 83,000 students.
“Our strawberry farmer came in today with two big buckets of strawberries he picked at 9 o’clock this morning, and they’ll be on menus all week,” said Domokos-Bays, “so, you pick something at 9 in the morning and it’s on lunch at 12, it’s not too shabby.”
The program also has a strong emphasis on food allergy awareness, working with parents to make sure the schools are following the latest guidelines.
With 52 school gardens in the county, Loudoun has also been incorporating food and nutrition into students’ lessons, getting their hands dirty as part of Project Based Learning.
“They’re perfect places for all kinds of lessons, from math to science to geography, you name it,” said Domokos-Bays. “It’s just a really good community effort to try to get nutrition embedded into the curriculum and show kids where their food comes from, and why it’s important to learn that stuff.”
Food trends can change on a dime, with a constant flow of new research being released. But Domokos-Bays says that the basics don’t really change, and the county continues to focus on serving fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.
“It works, it’s just what your mom always told you to do,” she chuckled.
While Domokos-Bays will be the one honored during the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference in St. Louis in July, she says keeping the students healthy has truly been a group effort.
“My staff is wonderful,” she said. “I may have the vision, but they all got on the bus with me, and work hard every day to ensure that we’re serving the best that we have for our kids.”