Christy Sessions and Mathias “Bill” Kamprad are putting the cool back in school … lunch.
As Child Nutrition Managers at Ogletree Elementary School and Auburn Junior High School, they make sure hungry kiddos get a delicious and nutritious school lunch each and every school day.
“Food is energy,” Kamprad said. “Your body needs food to function.”
Because children can sometimes be picky eaters and might think school lunches are “uncool,” Sessions and Kamprad try to be innovative with what they serve.
Some of the more out-of-the-box meals they’ve prepared include chicken alfredo and chicken cacciatore.
They also have tried-and-true favorites such as hamburgers, chicken finger fries, chicken bites and country-fried steak.
“Sometimes we take a risk and try something completely new,” Kamprad said. “Sometimes we succeed and sometimes not. You have to try things out.”
Sessions is the Child Nutrition Manager at Ogletree Elementary School, which teaches students in grades 3-5. Kamprad is the Assistant Child Nutrition Manager at Auburn Junior High School, which teaches eighth- and ninth-graders.
They have different culinary backgrounds, but share the same desire for feeding children.
Sometimes the only meals a child eats are the ones provided by their school.
“I think it’s important for them to be able to eat and get their tummies full so they can study and do the classwork that they need to do,” Sessions said. “I don’t feel like you’re at your best if you’re hungry. I feel like that’s my calling … to make sure that they’re fed each day.”
A former stay-at-home mom of four, Sessions has been working for Auburn City Schools since 2013.
As a mom, she’s used to making meals for children, and has a good idea of what they like to eat. But if she’s unsure, she’ll ask them.
“I do not want to see (food) go in the garbage,” Sessions said.
Kamprad is from Germany, where he graduated culinary school and worked as a chef. He moved to Auburn in 2011, and began working for ACS in 2012. He is now a U.S. citizen.
“I’m proud and happy to live here,” he said.
Ogletree feeds an average of 250 students per day. The Junior High serves about 550 students a day.
The schools follow nutritional guidelines laid out by a software program, which tells them the appropriate amount of calories for students in each grade level.
One thing they have to watch out for is how much sodium is in the meals. Sodium helps give food its flavor.
Because of that, they have to get creative with how they season their food.
“We try to use other (seasonings) just to bring out the flavor in your green beans, or we’ll add some fresh onions to ours sometimes just to try to make them tasty,” Sessions said. “We don’t just pour it out of a can and put it out on the line and expect the kids to eat it. I wouldn’t eat it, so I don’t expect them to eat it.”
Sessions and Kamprad like their jobs because they can make a difference in someone’s day.
“You can be a blessing, even on the lunch line,” Kamprad said. “When you see kids are grumpy, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ You can have a positive impact.”
Sessions said one of the highlights of her year was learning that the graduating fifth-graders enjoyed eating lunch in the cafeteria. For graduation, they were asked to name the top three things they liked about the school. Several said eating in the lunchroom.
“To me, that was like a paycheck,” Sessions said.
Kamprad had a similar experience with a recent Auburn High School graduate. He was waiting for his wife at a nail salon when the girl approached him and told him she remembered him.
“I really had to fight my tears,” Kamprad said. “We don’t do (this) for money or fame.”
ACS has a lot of international students. School meals sometimes give those students the opportunity to try foods they’ve never had before.
The school district serves fresh fruits and vegetables that are grown at local farms. Students have been treated to sweet potatoes, apples, kiwis and watermelons.
Sessions recalled a time Ogletree was serving kiwis, and a student asked if he was going to be eating a bird. Kiwi is also the name of a species of bird native to New Zealand.
“I was like, ‘No, this is kiwi fruit.’ … It was so funny,” Sessions said. “It was an opportunity to offer him a new fruit that he’s never had.”
School meals can also be learning experiences. Whenever Ogletree serves sweet potatoes, Sessions displays a picture of the farmer and the farm where they were grown at the checkout line.
“I will always print that out and set it out and say, ‘Hey guys, this is who grew these sweet potatoes,’” Sessions said. “It connects them to, ‘Hey, this really did come from a farm in Alabama.’”
Ashley Powell is the director of Child Nutrition for Auburn City Schools. She said Sessions and Kamprad have worked hard to maintain food safety throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
The cafeterias are normally self-serving, but because of Covid restrictions everything had to be individually wrapped and placed in to-go boxes this school year.
Students also ate in their classrooms as opposed to in the cafeterias. They hope to get the kids back in the cafeterias next school year.
“What they share is the heart of what we do. They care about their kids. They’re going to do what they need to take care of them,” Powell said of the duo. “They want the kids to be successful, and we feel like food is a way to enhance their day so they can be successful in school.”