by Marcia Hannigan
Wheaties™ bills itself as the “Breakfast of Champions” ™ — and found a champion of child nutrition in Crystal DeCaro EJB ’19, Food Service Director of Lacey Township School District. A Bloustein School public health alumna, Crystal found her career calling by championing the nutritional benefits of school breakfasts and lunches to her school communities.
Earlier this year Crystal was honored as a Trayblazer by General Mills and her portrait was put on Wheaties™ boxes as an example of a strong role model for childhood nutrition. The boxes were distributed on the east coast with Trayblazers from other parts of the country who were featured in their regions.
A New Jersey native, Crystal said she always “had a passion for wellness science” and was interested in “what is good for you and your community.” While at Rutgers she realized that, “There is a strong need for child nutritionists. Children need someone who understands childhood obesity and the importance of instilling good habits at a young age.”
While at the Bloustein School, Crystal was inspired by professor Anita Franzione, Dr. PH. Dr. Franzione helped her with her interviewing skills and described Dr. Franzione as “a godsend” and is still inspired by her. Crystal continues to use these skills in her school system every day.
The US Dept. of Agriculture, which oversees the school breakfast and lunch programs, extended aid for free breakfasts and lunches to all students. Crystal, who starts most of her days as early as 5:00 a.m, relies on marketing to get students to participate in the programs.
By the time students start arriving at school, she tries to have breakfast prepared, using the smells of maple syrup, French toast, and breakfast links to lure students to stop in and eat their first meal of the day. Crystal uses other marketing tools as well, including signage at the entrances to the schools to advertise the day’s menu, letters sent home to parents detailing the benefits of proper nutrition for enhanced academic performance, posted information about the availability of the programs through banners on the district website, and other information she provides to her students about good food options.
The proof is in the pudding. Crystal increased student participation in the free meal programs in her school district from 2% to 78%, and hopes to have the number over 90% this year. She plans on using COVID-safe sampling by cutting up foods that are being offered and placing them in small-lidded cups so students can sample new foods. The program will also be offering water ices made of vegetable and fruit juices at both breakfast and lunch.
School breakfast and lunch offerings make students more alert and better able to learn. Crystal’s primary goal is to get the students in her district’s six schools to opt-in to her programs, thereby enhancing academic performance and overall health.
She doesn’t forget about the teachers, either — she provides them with monthly teacher menus that they can access via Classroom Dash, and has meals delivered to their classrooms.
Crystal loves keeping busy and when she’s not plotting how to get healthy meals to her district’s students she enjoys kayaking, bicycling, and taking care of her pets — a mini-pig named Hamlette and her two dogs. She also volunteers for the semi-annual beach sweep-up sponsored by Clean Ocean Action.
The next time you reach for that cereal box, remember that the Bloustein School has its own champion in Crystal DeCaro.
Are you a Bloustein School undergraduate or graduate alum and want to share your story about how your major/degree has impacted your career and community? Send us an email with the details so we can follow up!