Last week at the School Nutrition Association’s 70th Annual National Conference in San Antonio, Texas, SNA President Jean Ronnei, SNS shared the organization’s newest tagline: “Feeding Bodies, Fueling Minds™”. And after attending my very first ANC, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the perfect phrase to sum up what child nutrition professionals do day in and day out.
I am very new to the child nutrition industry. In fact, I began my career as a content specialist for PrimeroEdge only five short months ago. And since I work for a software provider, much of my work is done “behind the scenes”, giving me limited face time with our customers: the hardworking men and women of child nutrition. Aside from a few speaking engagements, state conventions and podcast interviews, I haven’t had the opportunity to get to know our customers on a more personal level to understand what they are like, what hardships they face, or why they chose this line of work.
But ANC changed all of that for me.
While at ANC, I attended educational sessions, met some of our customers, walked around the Exhibit Hall and listened to the latest in industry news. Looking around at all the faces, I noticed that the attendees were extremely diverse. I was surrounded by people of all ages, races, genders, backgrounds and walks of life, yet everyone had two major things in common:
1) Child nutrition professionals are extremely friendly, and love to have fun!
The vibe at ANC was so upbeat and positive. Everyone seemed happy and excited to “learn, lead, succeed” and network with others. Groups of men and women walked around the conference hall in funny hats, matching outfits, fun stickers and buttons, wearing genuine smiles on their faces. They danced to the music, dressed up in the photo booths and posed for pictures with the different mascots in the Exhibit Hall. It was evident that this hardworking group of people also know how to have a lot of fun!
2) The love they have for what they do and who they serve is obvious.
It’s not about the money they make. It’s not about the food they prepare. It’s about the bright, smiling faces they get to serve every day. That’s why they do what they do, and that’s why they attend events like ANC. I watched these child nutrition professionals at the general sessions and breakout sessions nodding in agreement, smiling and clapping as they learned new ways to bring children into their cafeterias. They cheered when they heard about all of the new programs, initiatives and scholarships SNA is offering this year. They want to see the next generation succeed, and they genuinely wish to learn the best ways to fuel that success.
A speaker at one of the sessions I attended brought up a good point: these hardworking men and women of child nutrition are feeding the future of America. The children they serve will grow up to be doctors, lawyers, teachers, scientists…and somewhere out there, a child nutrition program is feeding the future President of the United States. Those who work in child nutrition are often underappreciated, but their role in fueling the bodies and minds of kids across the nation is so important. They are the real unsung heroes!
As a “behind the scenes” member of the industry, I came upon yet another conclusion at ANC – why I am proud to work in this industry. When I began working at PrimeroEdge, I’ll be honest – I had no idea what I was getting myself into. My first thought when I heard “software company” was typing code into a computer program, messing with wires on a POS terminal, or troubleshooting technical issues. But I’m not doing any of that! Instead, I’m blogging, networking and coming up with campaigns to inform our customers about all of the solutions we provide to improve their operations. Essentially, my job is to make child nutrition professionals’ jobs easier. If there is anything I can do to help them, I want to do it. And if you think about it, I am (indirectly) helping fuel the future of America, too!
Aside from these “lightbulb moments”, I learned a few more important lessons from attending my first ANC.
- Bring a bag to the Exhibit Hall, and stock up!
All of the vendors at ANC are eager to share their products with you. From equipment and packaging to actual food items, you can test and sample it all! If someone offers you a tote bag when you walk in the door, take it – you’re going to need it for all of the goodies you will be taking home! Don’t forget to save the packaging or brochures from your favorite snacks and vendors so that you can order them for your own district.
- The vendors do it BIG!
From photo booths to guest appearances, the vendors certainly made sure the ANC attendees were having a good time. It was very neat to see people posing for pictures with Tony the Tiger, the Jack Link’s jerky Sasquatch, and Duke, the dog that knows the secret family recipe for Bush’s Baked Beans. I even had a chance to meet Natalie Bieule, a Paralympic track and field superstar who is featured on a box of Kellogg’s cereal!
- Ask questions!
Don’t be shy if you have a question at any of the events at ANC. Whether you’re attending a breakout session or making your way around the Exhibit Hall, if you have a question, just ask! The guest speakers and vendors are more than happy to answer any of the questions you may have, and they are extremely knowledgeable on a variety of topics related to child nutrition. Pick their brains!
- Download the app.
The “ANC on the Go” mobile app was a lifesaver the entire time we were in San Antonio. This handy app allowed you to connect with other ANC attendees, build an agenda (and get notifications when your event was about to begin!), receive alerts when special events were happening (did somebody say “free chicken?!”), and rate the sessions you attended. This app was great for sharing tips I learned in the sessions I attended, and seeing important takeaways from any of the sessions I missed. I also loved seeing photos of other attendees enjoying the conference and the city!
- Share your experiences.
In roundtable breakout sessions, the speakers encourage attendees to share their best strategies and ideas with the rest of the room. This is a great opportunity to not only let others know about all of the great things you’re doing for your program, but also to get ideas for other strategies you can try. Districts from all over are coming up with super creative ways to increase participation in their programs – listen up, and take good notes!
- Attend the general sessions.
This year’s speakers for the General Sessions were out of this world – Olympians Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Shannon Miller, chef/TV personality Carla Hall, and Emmy-winning broadcast journalist John Quiñones spoke to the attendees this year. They shared their personal stories of struggle and success, and offered valuable leadership wisdom as it applies to the child nutrition industry. These sessions are very informative and entertaining, so you don’t want to miss them!
I think I speak for the entire marketing team at PrimeroEdge when I say we learned so much at our first ANC. We can’t wait for next year’s conference! Kudos to all of you out there who are “feeding bodies, fueling minds” – we’ll see you in Hot-lanta!