Food Service Personnel: On the Job and In the Know

lunch line

School food service directors and staff are expected to nourish students with tasty nutritious foods that follow MyPlate guidelines with, frequently, limited financial resources. If you have ever spent time in your child’s school cafeteria at lunch time, you have seen the juggling act that school food service workers go through each day.  You may have wondered, what are the standards for school food service personnel and are they equipped to meet these challenges? The Food and Nutrition Services in USDA, is working on both hiring and training standards.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act proposes minimum professional standards and training requirements. As of early November 2014, the public comment period is completed and final ruling is expected from Food and Nutrition Services of USDA in early 2015.

As proposed there would be required credentials for state directors of school food service, local directors, cafeteria managers and frontline staff. State directors would have to have Bachelor’s degrees in food and nutrition, food service management, dietetics, family and consumer science, nutrition education, business or related field and demonstrated skills in leadership, management and supervision to support school nutrition programs. The recommendations would be master’s degree, five years of experience and professional certification such as SNS (school nutrition services) or RD (registered dietitian). The state leads would be required to attend at least 12 hours of training workshops each year and to provide at least 18 hours of training to school district food service personnel.

The required standards for school food authority directors (directors of school district food service) vary with the number of students in the district. For the largest districts (10,000 or more students), a bachelor’s degree in related topic would be required with a master’s degree preferred.  For the smallest districts (2,500 students or less), a bachelor’s degree in related field, an associate’s degree plus one or more years of experience or high school degree with five years’ experience would be required.  Regardless of the size of the district, school district food service directors would be required to have 8 hours of food safety training as well as attend at least 15 hours of workshops on other school meal topics each year.

Cafeteria managers or those responsible for the day to day operation of school meal programs would have to complete 12 hours of training annually with some topics required and others to be determined. Frontline staff would be required to complete 8 hours of training each year with this being pro-rated for employees working less than 20 hours per week.

Many states and local school districts are actively ensuring that their leaders and staff take full advantage of training opportunities through National Food Service Management Institute and Food and Nutrition Services, USDA and other local sources. Others are anticipating these changes and providing training options.

The opportunity exists for school district food service managers and staff to increase their knowledge and skills in an increasingly challenging environment. The opportunity also exists for students, parents and the public to be increasingly confident in the capacity of school food service personnel to offer nourishing foods in the context of an educational environment in which the school cafeteria is a classroom.

Dr. Janey Thornton, Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services described the context and need for professional standards for school food service personnel, “As our nation continues to fight childhood obesity, we commend our schools for making so much progress in offering healthier options during the school day. Many of your kids spend the majority of their waking hours each day in school, and consume half their daily calories from school meals.” 


Mary Lee Bourbeau, Cornell Cooperative Extension Wayne County

Updated for accuracy 10/24/2016


Healthier School Day, USDA Food and Nutrition Services 

National Food Service Management Institute