Hilary Walentuk MS, RD, LDN

Inside the Annual National Conference of the School Nutrition Association

This blog post was written by staff dietitians Amanda Aldred and Hilary Walentuk.

Earlier this month, four members of our staff descended upon Atlanta, Georgia for the Annual National Conference of the School Nutrition Association (ANC). The four-day conference brought more than 7,000 school nutrition professionals together for a learning and networking experience like no other. In four days, we attended over 70 hours of education sessions related to school nutrition.
Day 1: Student Ambassadors and Dairy Council Brainstorming

National Dairy Council’s Dottie Ryan started us off bright and early on Sunday morning, moderating a panel of Fuel Up to Play 60 student ambassadors. The student panel was fantastic and provided some great feedback to the large number of school nutrition directors who attended the early morning session.

Student panel
Fuel Up to Play 60 students address the audience.

Carly and Amanda met up with dairy councils from across the country to discuss all things dairy and schools. We love these meetings as it gives us a chance to see what our peers are up to and bring some of those ideas home to New England.
Day 2: Demystifying Cereal and the Exhibit Hall

Amanda was up bright and early once again to attend a breakfast learning session hosted by the School Nutrition Services Practice Group for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The breakfast began with a greeting from the Academy’s President, Donna Martin, and featured speakers from General Mills. The panel discussed “Demystifying Ingredients”. It was interesting to learn that the recipe for Cheerios must be adjusted with each oat harvest to make a consistent product. Who knew!?

Donna Martin
Donna Martin speaking at the School Nutrition Services breakfast.

The exhibit hall opened Monday morning and if you’ve never experienced the hall at ANC you’re missing out! Everyone in school nutrition was represented, from the ingredients (carrots, anyone?) to the ovens used to cook them. In addition to our own National Dairy Council booth, one of our favorites was the Dole booth, where Carly just had to test out the smoothie blender bike–and the costumes! We captured her cycling on video, but we decided to be nice co-workers and not post it (yet).

Carly biking.
Carly taking the smoothie blender bike for a spin!


Day 3: Working the Booth

We each worked a shift at the National Dairy Council booth, handing out samples and discussing the role of dairy in the diet of our nation’s children. It was great to talk with school nutrition professionals from across the country and hear how much their students love dairy!

Staff smiling at the dairy council booth
Our ANC Team: Amanda, Hilary, Carly, and Lisanne showing their undeniable love for dairy.


Day 4: USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue

With so much learning, exploring, and great food, the last day quickly arrived. Wednesday morning kicked off with a general session. The keynote speaker, Alex Sheen, shared his passion for helping others through promises made and kept. It was a reminder to us all to keep compassion in our hearts as we make our way through this big bright world. A touching moment for those whose life’s work is feeding children.
Last, but certainly not least, United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue took the stage. He expressed his appreciation for the hard work school nutrition professionals do to feed our nation’s children.

USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
USDA Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue as seen from the back of the grand ballroom.

Standing ovations sprung up in response to his key messages:

  • Hungry kids can’t learn.
  • Food isn’t nutrition if it’s not eaten.
  • Local food in schools just makes sense.

These are three solid principles on which we can all agree.
After some additional time in the exhibit hall and more educations sessions it was time to head home. Our minds were full of ideas, bellies full of samples, and faces beaming with smiles, thankful for our time together in Atlanta.
– Amanda, Hilary, Carly, and Lisanne

Updated July 25, 2017

Hilary Walentuk MS, RD, LDN

Hilary is a registered dietitian and Nutrition Specialist for New England Dairy & Food Council. She works with schools in Central and Southeastern Massachusetts to implement Fuel Up to Play 60, the Dairy Council’s in-school healthy eating and physical activity program. In her free time, Hilary can often be found on the hiking trails. When not on the trails, Hilary is usually in the kitchen experimenting with recipes, often involving dairy! Sound like someone you want to get to know? Contact Hilary at hwalentuk@newenglanddairy.com.