BY KRISTINE M. STURKIE, PUBLIC AFFAIRS SPECIALIST NAVY EXCHANGE SERVICE COMMAND
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Ms. Christina Kepa
With the start of the 2015-2016 school year, the Navy Exchange Service Command’s (NEXCOM) new Student Meal Program Specialist Christina Kepa knows her job is about to get a lot busier. On board less than a year, Kepa’s goals this school year are to focus on customer satisfaction, to provide a balanced diet of kid-friendly choices and to implement a breakfast program.
“Our biggest priority for this school year is customer satisfaction of students, parents and teachers,” said Kepa. “We also want to structure the menu to provide kid-friendly items and more food choices while still meeting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards.”
NEXCOM provides meals for more than 7,000 students at Department of Defense Education Activities schools at 17 different locations in four countries.
“Christina is the first School Meal Program Specialist and registered dietitian we’ve had as part of the NEXCOM Food Service team,” said Dennis Wilkerson, NEXCOM’s director, Food Services. “We are excited to have her as part of the team and we expect her combination of experience and education to help the Navy develop a model Student Meal Program. She is working with our teams on everything from USDA meal compliance to providing children nutritious and delicious snacks to ensuring we have the right equipment for our mission. Most importantly, we are confident we will begin to see even higher levels of satisfaction with our program from both students and parents.”
In 2010, the USDA launched the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act which was championed by First Lady Michelle Obama as part of her Let’s Move! campaign and signed into law by President Barack Obama. The new meal requirements raise standards for the first time in more than 15 years and improve the health and nutrition of nearly 32 million kids that participate in school meal programs. Schools must now provide unlimited fresh fruits and vegetables every day, substantially increase the offerings of whole grain-rich foods, offer only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties, limit calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size and increase the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.
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Student Meal Program
Photos by Christina Kepa
“Over the course of a week, the lunch menu must take into consideration the calorie count as well as saturated fat and sodium content,” said Kepa. “Achieving the balance between nutrition and what kids will actually eat can be tricky. Even though the student meal program is a federal program, it’s important to not lose sight of your customer.”
Menu items can vary in different geographical locations due to the availability of products as well as cultural differences. In Europe, the menu often features pasta dishes while in Japan, Asian chicken is popular. For a local flavor and a memorable experience for the students, Kepa hopes to add shawarma to the menu in Bahrain and jerk chicken in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
To improve customer satisfaction, Kepa is coordinating the launch of a new Student Meal Program section on NEXCOM’s web site, www.myNavyExchange.com. This section will provide meal program information to students, parents and teachers including meal prices, menus, frequently asked questions and nutritional information about the food served.
“I’m excited for this school year,” said Kepa. “I plan on gathering feedback from all locations throughout the year to assess student satisfaction of the foods they are being offered. Lunch time is an important part of a student’s academic day. Our goal is to make school meals memorable and enjoyable for our students.”