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School Lunch Menu Earns National Honor for Mix of Nutrition and Taste

Catherine Donovan, the school district's food services director, has been recognized nationally for her promotion of healthy eating.

Catherine Donovan, food services director for the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District, has a lot on her plate.

New nutrition standards signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick in July, which will require districts to measure student body mass starting this year, are just the latest addition to a tall order for keeping kids healthy.

Donovan said her role in selecting meals and other food, such as snacks, desserts, and drinks available through vending machines, is a delicate balance.

"Our balancing act is to offer the kids food they'll enjoy and that meets their nutritional needs," Donovan said.

In her 10th year at the school district, Donovan has achieved a measure of success. This summer, the Hamilton-Wenham schools were recognized as a District of Excellence in Child Nutrition, awarded by the School Nutrition Association.

Donovan said providing healthy yet attractive meals for students sometimes requires her to be a little bit "sneaky" in order to get the kids eating right. 

For example, kids love pizza; but to make it part of a healthy meal, the pizza is made with low-fat cheese and whole grain crust.

This year, Donovan has introduced a deli counter in the high school cafeteria, providing healthy cold cuts.

Healthy eating is the bottom line, but that doesn't mean students can't enjoy food they like, she said.

"We only operate on our revenue," Donovan said. "To that end, we're like a business. The students are our customers, so we have to serve what they will eat."

Donovan comes from a business background. Before coming to the school district, she worked in the food service industry at hotels, including the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston.

Each food service staff member carries a small laminated card with the motto "Providing Food, Preparing Minds."

The cards were an idea she borrowed from the Ritz Carlton.

The staff have been incorporated into a culture of healthy nutrition, she said.

Staff member Annette Mattern was also recognized by the School Nutrition Association's "Heart of the Program" award. Mattern displayed an extraordinary commitment to nutrition, Donovan said.

Nutrition is not limited to lunches. As part of the health curriculum, Donovan often visits classrooms to talk with students about health and eating.

"It's not just in class; we actually live it," Donovan said. 

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