Episode 281: Jessica Shelly

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In the bustling world of school food services, there are unsung heroes who tirelessly work to ensure students receive not only nutritious meals but also a holistic education about the food they consume. Jessica Shelly, the Director for Student Dining Services at Cincinnati Public Schools, stands out as one such remarkable figure who is leading the charge for healthier eating habits and the importance of selecting fruits and vegetables in school cafeterias.

In this Episode:

  • Jessica discusses her time in the industry and how she came to find her passion in school nutrition.
  • Jessica talks about capturing kids in kindergarten and exposing them to the great programs early so they can make connections to the different produce items.
  • Jessica discusses the programs and ways they try and reach the socially economically disadvantaged.
  • Jessica shares about the Dollar General Program
  • Jessica discusses expanding salad bars in schools.

Notable Quotes:

“It was amazing that USDA was offering us opportunities to provide meals to our students still when they were at distance learning. But to be able to collaborate with our local food bank, we have an amazing nonprofit here called The Soup that takes rescued food and develops family style meals that we could then also serve out to families who visited us. And we had a great opportunity of partnership for a healthier America. We were able to produce boxes for our families. And so we kind of became that one stop shop.” Jessica

“You could tell it was a game changer. And that’s why I think these programs like Dollar General are so amazing because they’re needed. And not only they’re needed, they’re wanted. They really are.” Jessica

“These kids were so excited about the salad bars. The look on their faces, like literally the joy in their eyes, like they were like, they couldn’t believe that this was an option for them. And you know, and I keep on forgetting that, that these kids don’t have that same opportunity as we do to go to a restaurant and order a fresh salad. This is like something so new and different to them. And they were all so respectful.” Jessica

“I think that’s one thing that’s really been missed in this whole debate. Yes, it’s wonderful for school meal programs. It’s wonderful for nutrition. It’s wonderful for the mental health of our kids.” Jessica

“It’s kind of a challenge to get my kids to try something new and different, like a chickpea curry or naan bread. That’s something that’s really outside of their comfort zone. But just because it’s hard or different, they haven’t seen it before, doesn’t mean we don’t bring it into our schools. And so we have so many great opportunities here to not only use that, this is a platform for our kids to experience the taste and flavors, but really educate them on the importance of the food.” Jessica

“We have about 37,000 students. Of that, about 86 percent are socially economically disadvantaged, which means they meet the 200 percent poverty level. So it’s really important that we are providing to them the most delicious and the most nutritious meals we can. It’s always been interesting to watch my teams because usually everybody kind of does like a little cheer, the teachers are all really excited about snow days, and my team is always kind of like, oh, because we know that means the kids are going a day without food. And it’s hard, we’ve had a long debate about whether we should open up our lunch room so kids can come and get a meal on a day when schools are closed.” Jessica


Website: Cincinnati Public Schools / Homepage (cps-k12.org)

Website: Dollar General Adding Produce to 10,000 Stores | Progressive Grocer


About Lori

Lori Taylor is the Founder & CEO of The Produce Moms. For ten years she sold fresh produce to over 300 grocery stores throughout the United States, and today she is fully focused on working with the produce supply chain, media, and government to increase fresh produce access & consumption in the US and around the globe. Connect with Lori on LinkedIn.

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