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Webinar Slides Presentation

Check out the full presentation of slides from the webinar. We discussed training, parent engagement, networking, boundaries, menu planning, finances and more throughout the webinar.

Full Webinar Transcript

Laura Thompson (00:01:14):

All right, we are going to go ahead and get started. Welcome everyone, and thank you for joining us today for this webinar. What I wish I’d known when I’d started as a food service director featuring Anna Apoian. My name is Laura Thompson. I’m the marketing manager here at Health-e Pro, where we do menu planning and nutrient analysis software. As far as a quick overview of what’s going to go on with this webinar today, we’ll do a little bit of housekeeping. I’m going to introduce Anna. She will give her presentation on what she wished she had known when she’d started. We’ll have a few minutes for question and answer at the end, and then we will wrap up. This session is being recorded, so if you have to leave at any time or if you want to pass it along to a colleague we will be sending this recording out hopefully by tomorrow. And so if you’ve registered for this webinar, you’ll be able to see the recording whenever you would like.

Laura Thompson (00:02:07):

If you have any questions for Anna, for the end of this webinar, please put them in at the Q&A portion at the bottom. There are two, two sections. There’s the Q&A section, and then there’s the chat section. The Q&A section helps us kind of keep things straight, but in the chat, we would love you to post. Where are you from? We’ve seen a lot of people register for this webinar. We know that the topic is a very popular one and very timely, but let us know where you’re at. Anna and I are both in Southern California, but we’d love to see where you are from. So type that into the chat so we can see where, where people are visiting us from today.

Laura Thompson (00:02:42):

So as far as introducing Anna, Anna is delightful. This is now the third time I’ve been able to work with her and I love every minute of it. She has 25 years of experience in child nutrition. She has worked for quite a few districts in as the food service director, Corona-Norco, Hawthorne, ABC, Norwalk La Mirada, and has incredible experience there. She was a clinical dietitian in Houston, Texas, and is also a certified diabetes educator. One of the fun facts about Anna is that she is the mother of adult twins. If you have heard Anna speak before, you know you in for a treat today, and if you haven’t, you’re gonna be surprised and just delighted. So, Anna, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us. We are really excited to hear the things that you have to share today.

Anna Apoian (00:03:27):

Well, thank you so much, Laura, for having me. I’m happy to be here and a little bit nervous because this is national, but so thank you for trusting me. We could have titled this Anna’s Top 10 Mistakes in Her Career or we could have titled it what Anna Wish she had known when she started and Still Doesn’t Know. So, whatever. I think at the end, we are going to understand that we are all in the same boat with the many different hats that we wear. So we came up with some ideas. Thank you, Laura, for helping me put this together. So one of the things we were talking about was training, because that’s one of our hats that we wear. And one of the things I wish I had known when I first started was I wish I had known to pay attention to my audience.

Anna Apoian (00:04:14):

And so one of the worst trainings I ever did, I was presenting to fiscal directors who wanted to be chief business officials. And this group is a serious, serious group, and I am not. And so I was trying to make points with my usual jokes, and it just was not working. And so I have learned over the years to really know who the audience is. And I’m happy to say on the next slide is that I love training and that the best audiences ever are school nutrition professionals. I go to different districts and within my own districts, and I just love working with this group of people. Over 80% of them really love their job, and that makes for a wonderful audience. So I’m just going to share a few training trainings that I do at other districts and ours, and things that you can incorporate with your own team members.

Anna Apoian (00:05:12):

So before I say this, I do focus on communication styles, personality styles, and then talk about team building. So when they do these team activities, they are hopefully incorporated in what was just presented to them. So in this one, the marshmallow challenge, this is an old one, it’s been around for decades, but this is really wonderful. You give everybody 20 sticks of uncooked spaghetti, three feet of masking tape, and about three feet of string and one marshmallow. And then the goal is for them to build the tallest free-standing structure with a marshmallow on top.

Anna Apoian (00:06:08):

So this is actually stemmed from research when they were researching how people obtaining their their business, their masters, their MBA, and if you see the chart here, the average height of the marshmallow tower is 20 inches. But the MBA people, they fall way below the average. Even the kindergartners did better than the lawyers and the people who had their MBA. And you’ll see the architects of course, did wonderfully and CEOs did well, but they did better when they had a facilitator there, an administrative assistant to help figure out who’s gonna be in the lead. The reason why the kindergartners did so well is because they don’t sit there and vie for power, and they don’t sit there and think about it and come up with a plan first. They jump right in, they work together, they try something, it fails, they try again, it fails, they try again, it fails.

Anna Apoian (00:07:05):

And that’s why they end up with, with one of the college structures the next. So here’s what I do. It’s called communication. So when I always speak about this for people to have the confidence to speak out and to communicate and also listening. Listening is a skill that we don’t usually acquire. And so in this little activity, I come with sheets of paper with an image on it, and then I ask them to pair into teams of two: an A person and B person. And then the A person is to come up and get a picture and then give their B person a blank piece of paper and a pencil. Then they sit back to back and the A person has to describe the image without saying what it is, and the B person has to listen and, and try to draw, and then they can see how well they did. So this is always a fun activity.

Anna Apoian (00:08:03):

This one I really like. This is called the positive bulletin board. And so again, we talk about teamwork and everybody working together and so on. And so in this activity, you can set your team up and there’s four roles. So there’s the person who’s a bulletin board. So on their team, they have to assign one person to be the bulletin board, and then there has to be writers, and then there has to be runners, and then there has to be cheerleaders. And it’s up to that team to decide how many writers and how many runners and how many cheerleaders they will have. But the goal is that they each get a stack of ’em, these little, what do you call the sticky notes? And up on the PowerPoint, I put all these positive words. And the reason we’re focusing on the positive word words is because in our society we have more negative words than positive.

Anna Apoian (00:08:56):

And there’s a reason for that. It’s because if something bad happens, we have to really find a solution, right? So we focus on it and we need more words to describe it in order to come to a solution. Whereas if it’s positive, we’re just like, oh, that’s great. It’s positive. So if you think about that, it’s true. If you could have this wonderful, wonderful day, so many things great happen, and then somebody cuts you off on the way home. And when you get home, what do you tell your significant other? Somebody cut me off, right? And or it’s a problem at work, somebody said this to me, blah, blah, blah. But meanwhile, even though it’s only maybe 1% of your day, it takes up more weight in your mind and and so on. And that’s because we have to come up with a solution.

Anna Apoian (00:09:40):

So we talk about using positive words, especially in child nutrition, because children hear more negative words and positive. And we are in a position where we can smile at a child, say something nice to them, say their name, and we can really turn their day around. So really focusing on taking the time to say positive words. Okay? So anyway, the team comes up and they assign who’s gonna be the runner, who’s gonna be the writer, who’s gonna be the bulletin board, and then the first team to use up all their sticky notes wins. And I think I just showed a little clip on how, how one of the districts did it.

Laura Thompson (00:10:17):

Okay, we’re going to play this clip and we’re gonna, hopefully the audio will work through webinars. Sometimes it’s a little wonky, but hopefully this will work. If not, you’ll be able to see the energy of this while this happens. That seems like just such a wonderful example of getting some good team building, getting some good positivity. And I love the, the concept of giving us the language we need to use the positive words because those, we don’t have as much access to those words. Mm-Hmm.

Anna Apoian (00:11:03):

This is a good one. Our department secretary Heather, actually found this on social media site. And so we did this at one of our, our last meetings together at Norwalk La Mirada. And it’s, they pass the ball around, and the, the purpose of it is just to loosen, you know, loosen the room up. And, but also to show them that every single person in that line is necessary and essential. So here’s just again, another little clip. Oops.

Anna Apoian (00:11:47):

How Doris that is. Really,

Laura Thompson (00:11:54):

I can imagine it’s pretty challenging too. You think, oh, we’ve got this, we can get this ball moving easily, but you realize you really have to be a team together to make it work well,

Anna Apoian (00:12:03):

Absolutely. So anyway, those were a few training ideas that you can use with your staff. And that’s one of the best parts about our job is the people and the joy that we get from being together. This one I wish I had known the benefit of committees because I’m gonna tell you, I did not like committees at all. I’m very task oriented. I like efficiency, and I just wish I had taken more time at the beginning to partake in committees and to realize the benefit of seeing the different perspectives and slowing down, slowing down. As directors we’re go, go, go, go, go, or managers or supervisors, or even the frontline people. It’s such a fast paced environment. So if we take it slow, slow it down, that’s how we can do a little bit better.

Anna Apoian (00:12:53):

And so in this example, at Hawthorne School District, it was a success. You know how parents, they want to make the menu because, you know, little Johnny or Maria wants this and doesn’t like Tajin, and they don’t understand yet that we’re feeding a population. We’re not just feeding their child. And by the way, yes, we will take care of your child, but we are feeding a population, and that’s a very different operation. So when they come to us with suggestions about, oh, I want you to make this or that, they have to understand the parameters. So we brought in the parents who were interested, and we brought ’em together, and we made these easels around the room. And then each manager from the school site took a group of the parents and they went around each of the easels to discuss the parameters that are involved in school nutrition.

Anna Apoian (00:13:46):

And it’s so funny because if you think about our career, people think, oh, I eat food, so I could serve this food, right? I could do it. But this is a complex operation. If you saw somebody and they had a business where they sell diamonds, you couldn’t say, oh, I wear a diamond ring so I could sell diamonds, right? No, you can’t. So just because you eat doesn’t mean you can run an operation. It’s complex. So part of this is educating the parents, so then we could take their input and then improve our menus with real realistic solutions. So the managers of the school sites would take the group and they’d go around to different easels and discuss the issues.

Laura Thompson (00:14:29):

And I love on this one–we got a couple questions as people were registering for the webinar of, how do I improve parent engagement? And this committee idea, I think is such a fantastic way of getting the parents involved with understanding the complexities of this job.

Anna Apoian (00:14:42):

Correct. And when we went from easel to easel, these were just a food, fewer then, but food safety, the hasep, the waste, how that impacts custodians, how we have to plan for a little bit of waste. So every child gets the same choice. Equipment limitations, storage limitations budget, nutritional guidelines and so on. You wanted me to talk about marketing. Again, not my strong point. So I’m gonna talk about Vivian Watts, and she’s from Hambra. And I asked her, I remember some of these pictures from years back, because to me they are so powerful. When I look at these pictures, I don’t know about you, but when I look at these pictures, I see team. I see competency. I see consistency. I see collaboration. I see a very strong, trusted organization. This is what marketing is. If you have the time and you have the expertise, this is great branding.

Laura Thompson (00:15:52):

I am in marketing, and so I appreciate this as well. When you see a good brand, it’s a great emotional reaction to your brand that your customers see and I agree with you, there’s so much competency portrayed here, and that is something that cannot be faked. So that authenticity and that competency here is fantastic.

Anna Apoian (00:16:12):

Yeah, and I didn’t do that. I’m just gonna tell you the green monster smoothie story, because to me, that was a success. And I’m gonna tell you how it went well in one place and not so well in another district. That’s simply not necessarily anyone’s fault, it’s just that different organizations and different districts/limitations. But the green monster smoothie, this is back when they said, okay, we have to serve vegetables all the time, and it can’t always be tater tots or french fries. Great thing. We have serve a green veggies, okay? Okay. I’m an RD. Yes, yes, I want kids to have spinach. Well, they’re not going to eat spinach and it’s hard to eat spinach with a spork. We don’t want to just meet the guidelines and put one thing of spinach out there and said, we offered it but nobody took it.

Anna Apoian (00:17:04):

Our goal is really to nourish the children, so how are we going to get it into them? This was about 15 years ago, Tony Fu Alexis, well I don’t remember which one of us came up with it, but it was easy. It was pineapple, orange juice, and spinach, and so it tastes good. We know the kids are going to like it. The kids are not gonna try this. The kids are not going to try this thing. It’s foamy because it’s fresh. So we went to every single elementary classroom, and the biggest hiccup was the teachers. Those kids do anything, the teacher says, right? They love their elementary teachers as they should. We’d go into the classroom, and I’ll never forget some of the teachers. I’d say, “Here you have to try it!”

Anna Apoian (00:17:49):

She’d say, “You know…” And I’m like, “No, no, no, you’re trying it, right? You’re trying it.” So she would try it. And then she would say, “Oh, it’s good.” Then the other kids would try it, and they liked it. This was a big success. We served little ones for a half cup fruit and vegetables at the elementary sites on pizza day. It’s nice and easy, it took a while for the ladies and gentlemen in the kitchen to make it because they have to make it. But for service, it was easy. And the kids ended up getting the spinach inside of them. At the high schools, we made it into a smoothie with some protein. That was a success there. At my current district, we have it on the menu, and it goes, but not at the rate it went at Hawthorne. That’s simply because we do not have the time to go to each class, and it’s a bigger district and so on. This is the way I market it. I think having the food, having it be good food, and the word of mouth works in the school food service as well.

Anna Apoian (00:18:54):

So as long as we’re providing quality food and presenting it as best as we can, I think that’s great marketing.

Laura Thompson (00:19:02):

Best products. And in a way, we like to think that the best products sell themselves. We do still need to help market them and get them out there. But when you’ve got a great product, that makes it a whole lot easier.

Anna Apoian (00:19:12):

Right? I wish I had known how to draw boundaries sooner. I’m gonna talk about it in two different ways. Personal time. I’ve learned this to draw boundaries better with my personal time between work and home. I learned this from the millennials. I was a workaholic. My dad was a very hard worker. Our work ethic is strong from back east. Very strong work ethic. Go, go, go, go, go. You get burnt out after a while. And I really wish that I had known how to have a better boundaries with my personal and work life. I’m sorry, this is so upsetting to me.

Anna Apoian (00:20:10):

I’m really hopeful that the younger generations achieve this. I see young women and men coming into this arena, and this job doesn’t end. It’s very important that we learn how to draw our boundaries so that we can enjoy our significant others, our loved ones at home and our friends. I wish I had known how to do that sooner. I do it now. And I can remember too, when I was doing an internship, there was this wonderful director, Cheryl Dory, and she was well respected, and she was the kind who wore the suit to school all the time, you know, very well respected. And I could remember at the end of every day at four o’clock when that clock hit four, she looked up at the clock, put everything in her bag, and just walked out.

Anna Apoian (00:21:14):

Didn’t say anything to anybody. And I could tell it was difficult for her to do that. I could tell it was difficult, but I could also tell that she drew a boundary. The work is not going to get done that night. The work is not going to get done the next night. The work is not going to get done. It’s going to be there when you get back to your desk. And trust me, we move so fast that the people around us are not moving that fast. So they want us to slow down and draw those boundaries. Draw those boundaries, reduce this burnout, don’t feel guilty about it. You also set an example for your staff and for your kids. Confrontations. Another boundary. I learned this from a former superintendent. I remember there was a vendor or something, I don’t remember who it was, but he got loud and I didn’t know how to handle the situation.

Anna Apoian (00:22:03):

It became ugly.I remember going to him and sharing that with him, and he told me (and this is a technique luckily I have not had to use much) when that happens, you simply stand up. So communicate with the body, stand up and say, “This meeting is over.” If they don’t get the cue, which usually they do, then you just slowly walk toward the door and hold the door open. If it’s somebody within your district where you have to be a little bit more political, then simply say, “We’re not being productive.” Stand up and say, “Let’s carry this on at another time when we’re both at our best.” Definitely learning how to draw those boundaries with confrontation and coaching.

Laura Thompson (00:22:49):

Thank you, Anna, for sharing this. We’ve been getting a lot of comments in the chat about the importance of understanding the boundaries and how important that is. I can tell that it really resonated and they’re appreciating your vulnerability and sharing that feeling in your heart for that. So thank you so much for sharing.

Anna Apoian (00:23:04):

You are welcome. Okay, politics and networking. I’m gonna talk about two things here. Politics and power. And both of them have negative connotations. I remember one of my former mentors told me when I first became a director, that 60% of your job is going to be politics. And I thought, “Oh, I’m not gonna last. It will be a month tops, and I’m out of here!” I’m from back east. I’m very direct. I’m too honest sometimes. I didn’t think it was going to work. What I have learned to do over the years is to reframe politics and power, reframe them. So politics, although a dirty word, if you look at the meaning and the function of it, it is people working together for common purpose and coming to an agreement to reach a goal.

Anna Apoian (00:24:05):

There’s nothing negative about that. If I continue to look at it in that way it’s a good thing. If I look at power, power also is seen in a negative connotation because we abuse power our ego gets in the way and we abuse it. However, power I’ve come to see power as a tool, a tool that we use to help others in achieving those goals. When we get together, and there’s two different types of powers. There is power- there’s our own personal power. We can have character traits or skills that are power and we share with others. There’s also power that comes with a position. When we leave that position, that power is going to be gone, and it’s hard to let go of that power, but it is that we have to distinguish between the two, the personal power and the power that comes with the position.

Anna Apoian (00:25:02):

We have to use them for the greater good. I don’t know why I wanted to talk about that, but I put it out there. The networking part is very important. And again, this is where the joy is, right? I put a picture there of Heather and Annette, this is right before the pandemic. When everybody went home, we thought they were going to be home for what, a week or two. It was a couple years. But within hours, we’re back online, meeting together and networking. So with all the people at the site, with colleagues, we continue to network and that’s where joy is.

Anna Apoian (00:25:37):

I really encourage everybody, especially the young directors, get involved. One of the best things about child nutrition is a strong network at the national, state and local levels. Join your state groups, join SNA, serve on a committee. I have learned so much by serving on a committee. Remember, I didn’t like committees, but I’ve learned that there’s so many different perspectives. So many different skill levels in different areas that I may admire but don’t possess. Viewing different leadership styles. Learning about Robert’s rules. I just learned and acquired so much information by being on the committees. And then I gave back by serving by running for an office and serving as well. So network with your colleagues, whether you’re traveling with them. I think this is in some country, the tower, it leans. I think it’s Italy. It was a great day. I can still remember the stairs. They’re like marble stairs. I mean, it’s so hard. And yet they were all worn in the middle where everybody has walked. Whether you’re traveling with them, having lunch with them, exercising, connect with your peers, and of course virtually now as well. It gives us a sense of belonging.

Laura Thompson (00:27:04):

That’s powerful. I know as you were talking earlier it helps to have some sort of purpose and connection. And having that sense of belonging with the people that you work with can really help rejuvenate you on those days you’re feeling burnt out. I think that sense of belonging can really help in aiding with that.

Anna Apoian (00:27:20):

Yes. Okay, compliance, you had mentioned compliance, and people say, “Oh, I have an administrative review or I have a purchasing review. These are actually wonderful tools. We learn so much when we go through the reviews. Usually our state people are very helpful. They’re a great resource for us, and they’re a protector of us as well. As Orlando Greco from Anaheim Unified School Districts so aptly puts, he said, “We as directors, managers, supervisors, and everybody in child nutrition, we are rule followers. That’s what we do. We are governed by so many rules and for this federal meal program, and that’s what we do. We follow the rules.” And so I’m bringing this up. This is from California. This was about 10 years ago, and it was called the Food Fight Report. In this report at the Senate level, they reviewed 31 districts and found that 18 out of the 31 were out of compliance with Fund 13.

Anna Apoian (00:28:26):

Fund 13 is our fund, and it’s separate from the general fund. So whether those mistakes were intentional, unintentional, it didn’t matter. It was wrong. This was called the Food Fight Report. I’m saying this because this is part of our job to protect the taxpayer’s money that was allocated to this fund to feed the students of America. As you know, whenever there’s money, there can be trouble. So part of our job is to be responsible for that money and to also protect our district and to provide them guidance when it is not being used correctly. That’s our job. That’s not a fun place to be, right? We have to put ourselves out there. And sometimes that could interfere with networking with our colleagues in the district. I’m so happy to say I never had this problem in any of my districts, but I know that some districts do.

Anna Apoian (00:29:22):

Many times it’s unintentional, but it is our responsibility to set it straight and to comply. So if you are in a district where maybe they don’t want to comply, all I say is “Bring it on.” This is our job, this is what we do. It doesn’t matter if they like us. We’re protecting the district. We’re protecting taxpayers’ money. I don’t know if anybody knows Norman Rockwell. Again, I’m from Massachusetts. I love Norman Rockwell. This picture was hanging on my office wall pretty much my whole career. I love this little girl. She’s been in a fight. You can tell she’s been in a fight before from the principal’s, you know, reaction. Like, “Oh, here she is again.” But she’s happy because she’s going by her values and sticking to what’s right.

Anna Apoian (00:30:15):

Okay. Menu plan. This could be like a whole week of training, right? I remember somebody taught me this and I really liked it. So this is comparing the cycle menu to the school calendar. I took this example of a cycle menu, four week cycle menu. We basically do three cycle menus because of global warming. We do one from August through October, so the little kitchens at the sites don’t have to heat up anything. And then we do November through March, and then we do in April through June. So anyway, this is a sample and not of a four week cycle. I took it and what did I do? I wanted say pizza day. You’re probably saying pizza every Wednesday. That’s from a custodian at Hawthorne School District.

Anna Apoian (00:31:08):

I don’t remember who he was, but I ever since then, I do pizza day every Wednesday. We could do pizza twice a week and kids would eat it, but he said, “Why aren’t you doing pizza on Wednesday? That’s early release day, and it’s easier for the staff.” I’m like, “Oh, that’s a great idea.” On top of that, Fridays families are tired. What do they do? They order pizza, right? So you don’t want them having pizza for lunch. Anyway, our pizza day is Wednesday. So we take the cycle menu andcompare it to the calendar.

Anna Apoian (00:31:47):

I took the cycle menu and I applied it to February, and then if you can see that the second and third week, the chicken drumstick and the chicken tenders would never be served that month. Then also the chicken con queso on that last Friday. When I actually took this menu, four weeks cycle menu and applied it to the whole year, it ended up where the orange chicken (children’s favorite) it would be served seven times a year less. And the chicken drumstick three servings days less than I would’ve thought. And the chicken tenders two days less. So this impacts commodity projections, usage, food cost, operations, and student participation.

Laura Thompson (00:32:35):

When Anna was walking me through this slide a little bit and talking through how holidays can kind of mess up what product is needed to be ordered. I think our software does that as well. This is just a quick plug on how easy it is to account for those misserving days of holidays and Health-e Pro. You have sessions that you’re able to put in the dates with the holidays, and then you just go simply to the shopping list. Or you can also work with forecasting and production records. You can see what you need to order there. It’s very seamless, very simple.

Anna Apoian (00:33:04):

It would’ve helped me. Menu planning in general. There’s so many things we have to think about when planning that menu. Overall, what do the students like? What is available? Nowadays, if it’s not available, I’m not putting it on the menu. What are the internal facility and staffing limitations for the prep and service? What can they eat in 10 minutes? Only at the very end do I think about cost. I don’t usually say, “Oh, how much does this entree cost?” Because I could have an expensive entree that drives participation. I could save 20 cents on a product that maybe isn’t as good. And then participation drops. So then even though it’s less expensive, I could lose money. So overall, I never look at the individual pricing and I look at meal costs food costsusually by the year, in all honesty, as long as I’m in the black, where’s my food costs? But I think on the next spreadsheet, I look at it monthly too.

Laura Thompson (00:34:13):

This one was another one where, as you and I were talking about cost and talking about this webinar, I thought there’s another thing, again, a quick little plug for Health-e Pro that we have this dashboard where you can see just in this graphic format on the left here the menu popularity, you see what is popular and also what is profitable. And if you click on any of those circles, it then takes you to a chart where you can see how profitable is item, how popular is it, is it one of these things that I should keep on my menu even? Maybe it’s not quite as profitable, but it’s very popular. Then you can help working on your menu mix through that.

Anna Apoian (00:34:46):

I love the visuals on that. It’s really good. It’s, it’s so much easier to, okay, here’s mine.

Laura Thompson (00:34:52):

We appreciate that. Thank you.

Anna Apoian (00:34:55):

Look at mine. Now I gotta explain this one. This is just a little snippet. I actually love again, finances. I know directors out there who love the finances. I am not a finance person. I have always had wonderful accountants and account technicians and clerks to do this. And I just see the big numbers. This spreadsheet I acquired from Cal ProNet, they used to have a one week in-person training for new directors. It was wonderful. And this is one of the tools that I came away with. And so basically every month and then over the year, you know a summary by site, I look at the total revenue that they brought in, and I just compare it to the major costs and the things I can control a little bit quicker, like paper goods. So I look at food costs, labor costs, and paper good costs.

Anna Apoian (00:35:49):

Then I get a percentage. Then this isn’t, we’re we’re public servants, so this really isn’t a profit, right? But expenditure versus revenue. Just to make it easy, net profit or loss. This monthly tells me, it gives me a snapshot of each school district. And then every month, the whole spreadsheet over the year gives me a motion picture. And once your staff, you can see what’s going on. So if I can look at this so quickly and say, “Pay a good cost.” Okay, 3% is usually what you look for. And I always look for 2% because I wanna reduce the waste in our environment. So I’m looking, okay, okay, this is all good pay, good cost, good. Now, if I see one, like in August, it’s gonna be higher because they’re coming back and they’re stocking up, right?

Anna Apoian (00:36:39):

Or maybe I see one that’s a little bit higher, and then I go to the previous month, and the previous month was 1%, and now it’s 4%. So it kind of washes out. If you see what’s in the red, this is why I did so badly with that. Those fiscal directors in the training, because I said they love the meals per labor hour. I don’t know why that’s a good tool, but it’s limited, right? So I said, okay, you got a school and the meals per labor hour are above whatever average, right? They’re at 45 and Hazel and Jose work there. Do you move one of them? And they all say yes. And I’m like, no, no, you don’t because you still need two people there, right? You still need somebody at the POS and you still need somebody behind the counter. So you know, the operational end of it. So if I look at the schools in the red, I mean, there’s nothing that they’re doing wrong, it’s just the attendance is lower. They still may be reaching a high portion of the kids, but I still need to put two people there or whatever. But this tool, I have been able to identify theft from this, from this spreadsheet. So I highly recommend it.

Anna Apoian (00:37:54):

So my first six months as a director, we had three outside walk-in coolers. One of them, a car ran into it and moved it off the foundation by like an inch. The whole integrity of the unit was gone. Another one broke down over the summer and there was no sensor in it. So we didn’t know all the food was rotten. And the other one, some kids who didn’t have enough people watching them or enough things to do, set one on fire. Okay? So we had three freezers. How do you build a freezer? I have no idea. No idea. So what do you do? So I know we’re not supposed to have vendors draw plans and doing this or that, but certainly our industry partners can help. So you can talk to multiple people, ask them for their opinion.

Anna Apoian (00:38:47):

You can do Google or chatGPT, of course, they can build it for you, but you can reach out to our industry partners and they will certainly help. And then you do the job walks. At my current district, purchasing does everything, which is such a wonderful treat, you know? So I tell them what I need, and they do it. So it depends on the setup of the district. So don’t feel intimidated new directors when these big things come up. We’re the jack of all trade, master of none. We have industry partners who can help. We have colleagues who can help. And then we have our wonderful procurement process to ensure that everything is bid fairly.

Anna Apoian (00:39:32):

Brokers, they’re another industry partner. We recently purchased equipment. I didn’t take any equipment classes in college. I don’t know but it in our current central kitchen, it’s a wonderful kitchen that every single director before me has added to and made it wonderful. And this kitchen was running on an old boiler, and the boiler broke, and nobody’s fixing the boiler. So we had to rip out like eight kettles that were also broken. So we put in four tilts, tilt skillets. And then on the next slide, we see Dan I think it’s Fisher Group now. He actually comes in, he’s a chef, and he comes in and teaches the people how to work it, and then teaches them also recipes. So it’s really a wonderful resource working with the food vendors. This is Andre from a lovely man.

Anna Apoian (00:40:28):

And again, I inherited one of a very organized, wonderful district at Norwalk la Marada and a central kitchen. And so one of the things we didn’t have on the menu were chicken nuggets, breaded, and it’s in breaded because when you could make it at the central kitchen, transport the bread and it falls off, and the pizza they served was a wrapped pizza. And when I’d go to the site, I would look, stand by the trash can with the custodian. By the way, custodians are your friend. You put a new menu item on the menu, talk to the custodian, they will tell you if they actually ate it. It isn’t whether they took it, it’s whether or not they ate it. Anyway, I would see the pizza just going, being thrown away. So I wanted the small satellite kitchens to make their own pizza.

Anna Apoian (00:41:17):

So I asked, who wants to volunteer our wonderful Maria Reto and her team said, yes, we will. So in the next slide, we brought our central kitchen expertise margarita there. And I put wethers in every every little kitchen so that they could heat the product up themselves. I just love this picture. I went there that day and kids were actually eating the pizza. So it was a big success. So what could go wrong? Well, what could go wrong? I put worms in the little kitchens, and every now and then the breakers go off because it may not be enough amps to do it. So make sure you check the amps. And I can remember at Hawthorne, Tony, Tony and I, Tony put in a panini machine in a little room, and it would keep- I think the smoke or something- and the fire department would come and they finally figured out it was us. But you know, you just go with the flow and fix it as you go along.

Anna Apoian (00:42:15):

Okay, so this is a bonus retirement one. I asked my colleagues. We’re always texting about, what did you know about this? Did you know about that? And I thought this would be good to share, especially with some of the younger people on this webinar. Look into your pension early and begin calculations early. Look into Medicare and understand that there will be an added expense at the end. I was surprised it’s gonna be like $500 a month for me to get the Medicare supplemental. Know the difference between a beneficiary and survivor. Know your district’s contract and longevity increases. That’s important. Get an investment fund to compensate for your pension. And check out both Roth and I r a if you haven’t done that yet. And understand that comparing your gross income is important. And you also need to look at your net income. I learned this from Lynette Grumbles because they take out a lot of things from your paycheck now that won’t, will not be taken out when you retire. So that’s something to look at.

Anna Apoian (00:43:23):

Join or follow the social security website, it’s really nice. They have a Facebook page and they also have YouTube videos. Orlando told me about this. So I’ve been watching that. Even if there may not be definitive answers. You hear conversations and it helps to get me thinking about, “Oh, well, how do I wanna handle this?” If you’re a member of our credit union, I know in California we have schools first, and they have a summer saving program, which gives 6.5% savings, long term term care insurance, I don’t have it, but Liz Brown Smith said by Young, by Young. And this other one- I forgot who gave it to me, and I don’t really know what they’re talking about. So you can read that one and see.

Anna Apoian (00:44:19):

You can also look if you’re into moving, which states- these are the current states that do not tax pensions. So if you have family there or friends there, maybe you want to look at moving there. As of now they do not tax pensions. And I wanted to end with Maslow’s hierarchy. I don’t know if they still teach us in schools today, but I remember one day when I went to school in high school, yes, I skipped a lot, but I remember they were talking about Maslow’s hierarchy. I really just loved it. And I think when we come into our professions, we are at the belonging stage, like we have our physiological needs taken care of and our safety needs, and we’re really getting to that belonging stage. This is where we network and we join committees and so on to reach those top three tiers on this pyramid.

Anna Apoian (00:45:17):

I think my suggestion is to be authentic be true to your own values and spirits. I have always been a square peg trying to fit into that round hole. And with my maturity, I recognize that that’s okay because I’m not the only square out there. There are many squares, some triangles, some stars trying to fit into that round hole. And if we can be ourselves and have the confidence to be ourselves we will enjoy our job more. And I think by accepting myself by who I am, I have also learned to, to accept others and to appreciate others. There’s so many people I admire and I would like to be like. I would love to be poised and polished and articulate and, and I’m off the cuff and that’s not me, but I certainly admire it in other people. We’re being acceptant of others, and it’s a more comfortable place to be set boundaries for higher productivity, network for feeling of belonging, serve on committees to gain confidence and experience, and to give back and enjoy your ride. It’s a fun job. Exhausting.

Laura Thompson (00:46:33):

I love that slide with the hierarchy of needs and how you have kind of brought it full circle with everything from what you talked about at the beginning of having boundaries and then again at the end here of you know, enjoy the ride. This is a very complicated role that everyone on this call is in, and it requires a lot of these things here, specifically on this slide in order to do it well, and to feel that achievement that comes from this and that sense of belonging. So thank you so much for sharing all of this throughout the webinar today. Now we’re going to open it up for questions for Anna. So if you have any questions, please feel free to put it in the Q&A box. And it’s been fun seeing we’ve got a whole bunch of people from California and here today, I remember, and we’ve got folks from all over the country. So thank you so much for joining today. I’m going to start off with a couple of questions. So one, I know you’ve touched on this a little bit so far, but I’m curious if you could expand on it a little bit. It’s the question of how do you deal with burnout?

Anna Apoian (00:47:32):

Me? How do I deal with burnout? Number one: exercise. You have to exercise. So throughout my career, I’ve exercised in the morning. I’ll get up at 4:00 AM and that’s when I exercise. And especially now as I’m older by the time I get home, I don’t have the energy now. I know Alexis, my coordinator, she exercises in the afternoon and she loves it because it’s a big release of all the stress. So wherever you do it, definitely exercise, draw those boundaries. I know that there may be men on this call as well so all of us, and especially young mothers, I missed time with my kids that I can’t get back. So don’t do that. Do not do that. Draw those boundaries. Don’t feel guilty about it.

Anna Apoian (00:48:26):

I think we have to be more comfortable in saying no and saying it professionally. I remember a girl I waitress with, I waitress for five years and put myself through school, and Rita was her name. I loved her. People would ask us, “Oh, can you cover my shift?” And we were always like “Uhh no” but I remember her response when people asked her. She’d say, “Thank you for thinking of me. I won’t be able to do it tonight.” I mean, what a wonderful way of drawing a boundary and being polite about it. Practice those sayings, find ways to do it. There’s a few Youtubes out there on how to do it. I think the younger generations are really skilled at learning how to do this in practicing it. So I think burnout that, hmm. What else? Exercise, drawing the boundaries. A few beers every now and then, a wine.

Laura Thompson (00:49:27):

Those are such great pieces of advice. Thank you so much for answering that one. Couple other questions that came through. One is, I really like this one. Why did you choose to get into school food service?

Anna Apoian (00:49:41):

I came from Massachusetts, came to California, $5 in my pocket, sat on my sister’s couch to get started. So I needed a career. And I remember seeing this bulletin, you know, one of those big billboards, and they were looking for sheriffs in Orange County. I would smoke at that time. So I quit smoking, and I started to exercise. I joined the gym because in order to get a job there, you have to be physically fit and we’d have to crawl under barbed wire, push a car, drag a dummy, and do all this things. And so I got healthy to apply for this job. And then I applied and I didn’t get it, thank goodness. I’m sure they were laughing when I left that interview room. But physically I couldn’t get over the wall. They put like a five pound or 10 pound belt on you and you have to climb over a six foot wall. I couldn’t do it. So anyway, what I recognized was that the difference in my attitude, that eating healthy and exercise and made in my whole personality and my whole outlook on life and my whole perspective, and one of my first mentors Lynette Rock I, I would see her at the YMCA, and she, she suggested this field. I’m grateful to her.

Laura Thompson (00:51:00):

That’s awesome. I know one of the other things you’ve talked about, and I know we’re big here on it at Health-e Pro, is also start with the why. You know, why is it that you do what you do? And you’ve talked about this before of when you see the, the faces of those awesome kids as they are being fed nutritious meals, that helps you as well,

Anna Apoian (00:51:17):

Right? We’re fortunate in our profession and there’s a definite purpose there. Our mission is to feed the hungry children who are at school. We do that and we do it well. We have a purpose. If you’re in a position where you’re not happy, I mean, we’re never a hundred percent happy. I have always been fortunate to enjoy my job about 90% of the time, but there’s times that percentage drops, right? But overall, if you are not happy, you need to move on, find something that’s really good for you, a good match. Maybe it’s still in this profession, but on a different desk. I’ve heard some of the younger people coming in, they don’t want to be director. They like being at the supervisory level. That’s fine.

Anna Apoian (00:52:03):

That’s good. Know yourself, know your limitations. That’s a boundary, right? And put yourself where you really enjoy your job and know why you’re doing what you’re doing. My two boys are 23 now, and one started a job and he enjoys his job. He told me, it’s very hard. I work a lot. But I see the results and I see the purpose. So I always tell them do a job that you enjoy and you will not work a day in your life. Well, kind of, right?

Laura Thompson (00:52:35):

Somewhat similar going along these lines. I really like this question. Was there a moment that stands out where you thought, that’s why I chose this career?

Anna Apoian (00:52:48):

I don’t think at one single moment. I don’t remember it like tonight, right before I go to bed, like, “Oh yeah, I remember that.” Just recently, I celebrated a birthday and I have some of the most wonderful women from Hawthorne School district text me, you know, six, seven years later, “Happy Birthday.” I mean, that just touches my heart that to know, even though we don’t see each other we’re still connected years and years and years later. Again, it’s just the people I’ve really enjoyed the people. When my new job became a little more administrative and I was a little bit more removed from operations, that was a little bit harder for me. So I definitely make sure I try to put some of that back into my day.

Anna Apoian (00:53:44):

My first time I did a presentation was at chapter one, Southern Cal meeting years ago. And I was really nervous, but they asked me to do it and I hadn’t been doing any of this. So I practice, practice, practice, practice, you know, verbatim, kind of like comedians. Do they have a script, right? And I did that. And after that meeting, I remember everybody stood up and gave me a standing ovation. And that just touched my heart. And I think it helped me realize that I had something there that I could share with others. So I think that support, but on the other hand, you get others that don’t like this. This morning I sent Laura, this is so funny. I sent out the link to some of my people, right?

Anna Apoian (00:54:31):

“Hey, if you want to do this…” And then somebody emails me back saying, “Anna, you put September 9th.” So then I send out the group email again, “Hey, I meant September 29th”, and then somebody sends it back to me and says “Today’s the 28th.” So then I’m all, “Hey, it’s today at noon.” Some people were laughing and funny, they accept me for who I am, and other people were like, take me off your list. So, I don’t know, we have these special moments, we feel support, then we feel beaten down, but then we’re like, oh, okay, I just love this profession. If you’re in it, you’re in a good arena.

Laura Thompson (00:55:07):

Very, very true. It’s so nice to feel that support and hopefully have some fun along the way. This is a question I think that’s really interesting too, and maybe you won’t answer the specific question, but maybe something kind of around it, it’s what is more valuable, a nutrition background or a business background? And just for some context, I know one of the things we hear a lot is I just want to feed kids. I don’t wanna worry about the numbers. How do you balance, basically like, yes, we are feeding kids, but we also need to look at the numbers. How do you balance the business side and the nutrition side?

Anna Apoian (00:55:40):

Well, I think in retrospect where, where I wish what I had done, I have my nutrition, I’m an RD, and then I’ve got a Master’s in Public Administration. And I wish I had acquired an MBA. So if you go back for your Master’s? I would say an MBA, it definitely would’ve given me a little bit more insight or a better way to talk with the people in fiscal and understand it. Again, I’ve been fortunate to have plenty of accountants that I could trust and just see the big numbers. But there are times I felt inadequate. I know some of my colleagues, director friends, they really know the fiscal end of it and I admired them. So I would say if you have a business that degree, that’s great. And then bring RD’s on because you need an RD on there. And I remember a time when we didn’t have a lot of RD’s, and now we do. And I think if you’re an RD and you’re in a position as a director, bring some business people on that you can trust.

Laura Thompson (00:56:48):

I like that. Get the balance of the two, because they’re both vitally important.

Anna Apoian (00:56:51):


Laura Thompson (00:56:53):

I really like this question too. What techniques have you used to get staff buy-in for scratch recipes? And maybe the answer doesn’t have to be specifically around scratch recipes, but on anything you’re trying to do that’s new. How do you get staff buy-in, whether it’s a new marketing approach or scratch recipes or a different way of doing something operationally, how do you get staff buy-in?

Anna Apoian (00:57:16):

Well, luckily at Norwalk La Mardo, the Central Kitchen team has been wonderful in learning new equipment. And for many of them, it’s going back to what they used to do, right? So it’s kind of come full circle. I send out surveys to everybody on our team, like, what are some ideas that we can do? And they come back with some yesterday I was just sitting there with Margarita in the office just throwing around ideas what about this? What about this? Because we have to think about production and what’s doable, right? With the limited staff. So I think it’s just engaging in conversation and recognizing it’s an ongoing project and using standardized recipes that are out there and tweaking it to our student population. So it’s just engaging and I think the biggest thing I’ve learned to through my tenure is the wealth of information my team has beyond what I have and to engage them and listen and act on it.

Laura Thompson (00:58:29):

That’s very powerful. Taking the wisdom of the collective in order to make the whole thing better. Powerful. there was one other that I just, I’m trying to find it really quickly, but also as a note, there is a link in the chat that Tyler is posting for the professional development certificate. So if you are on this call still and you’d like a professional development certificate for attending today, you can click on that and you’ll get the certificate emailed to you. I think on the last question I would like to ask you, Anna, is what have you found most fulfilling or rewarding now that you’re at this point in your career?

Anna Apoian (00:59:07):

Starting as a very task oriented director and coming here, it’s really the people. I listen to people who have retired before me and listened to some of the losses because there’s losses when we say goodbye, right? There’s losses. So I listen to them very intently and I think about, “Oh my goodness”, you know, and there’s a group of people that I have been in touch with for decades but maybe only in the professional arena, maybe I didn’t travel with them or dine with them or whatever. And so I’ve been making great efforts with the people I really want to stay in touch with, to invite them over or to create those connections so that that’s not a loss for me. So I would definitely say the people, and I’m sure that’s in most careers, value the people.

Laura Thompson (01:00:02):

Very powerful. Thank you so much, Anna, for your wisdom that you were sharing today, and for the heart that you have for this profession and for the people in this profession. I’m going to just echo what Christie passed along a few minutes ago of “Thank you, Anna, for your authenticity and honesty. You are a true role model for school nutrition professionals.” I echo that, and I appreciate what you have shared today. It has been powerful. I know it’s resonated. I’ve seen these comments in the chat. So thank you so much, Anna, for sharing your wisdom and your love for this industry. Thank you everyone for attending, and we will see you again soon.

Anna Apoian (01:00:36):

Thank you. Bye.