Approximately 7 billion breakfast and lunch meals are served to K–12 students in the U.S. every year through federally funded programs. The nutritional balance of those meals directly affects the health, academic performance, and future of our nation’s children. 

This massive responsibility (including the sheer number of meals) requires a fleet of school nutrition professionals, with registered dietitians at the helm. Jessica Keene, M.S., R.D., SNS, is one of those dietitians. A leader in school nutrition, Keene is Regional Field Manager of San Diego Unified Schools Food and Nutrition Department. She supports 10 district clusters, which oversee approximately 100 school sites, 500 employees, and 60,000 students. 

As a credentialed dietitian and School Nutrition Specialist (SNS), Keene has specialized in the operation of school nutrition programs for over a decade. In addition to overseeing production, planning, ordering, and inventory—Keene has written, analyzed, and managed over 500 special diets for recipe development and 40-plus nutritious menus.

While the pandemic has temporarily shifted the format and location of school for many children—nutrition leaders, with impressive creativity and fortitude, have continued to distribute meals to those inside and outside of school.

Keene and I recently caught up to chat about her personal approach to nutrition, plus what this year’s National Nutrition Month theme means to her and to the students she serves.