The national, non-profit School Nutrition Association (SNA) has named Valerie Kincade from Lee’s Summit High School in Lee’s Summit School District R-7, MO, the Midwest regional Employee of the Year. The award recognizes the valuable contribution of school nutrition employees who exhibit a remarkable commitment to the school meal program and the students they serve.

Valerie Kincade tries to know as many of her students by name, but with over 1,700, knowing all of them would be an unbelievable accomplishment. She loves to see the students she knew from her days cooking in the elementary school, getting reacquainted with them as teenagers, as well as getting to know new students. She is always talking to students, listening to critiques and positive comments, and she takes pride in offering healthy choices that she knows they will enjoy – including meat-free or gluten-free options. She works closely with students, adamantly reading labels and experiments with recipes to recreate healthy versions of popular restaurant menu items.

Seeing students’ boredom with chicken nuggets, Kincade and her teammates recreated a buffalo chicken tender that is popular at local restaurants. After trial and error, the team developed a recipe that tastes awesome, is easy to prepare and the students love.

Kincade never stops working to improve her skills. Last year, she attended the Missouri Culinary Skills Institute and was excited about the knife skills she learned. She brought back ideas about cooking with herbs and salt free seasoning, helping to bring more flavor to the foods she serves.

Ever the team player, Kincade recently stepped up when one of the school cooks left. She helped keep order and train the rotating staff during this time. She assists in training new production staff, provides them with a solid base of knowledge and demonstrates “hands on” prep methods on all equipment. She takes the time to answer questions and is always open to try something new to determine what works best for the team.

“It’s wonderful to recognize a professional who has worked in school nutrition for many years but continues to improve and challenge herself to make her program better,” said SNA President Lynn Harvey, EdD, RDN, SNS. “Valerie Kincade is an ideal example of what it means to be an Employee of the Year in school nutrition.”

The Employee of the Year Award was created to recognize outstanding school nutrition employees who influence the quality of school meals through customer service, an interest in young people, cooperation, work attendance, creativity, participation in professional development and their willingness to go above and beyond.

In July, Kincade will be honored during the Red Carpet Awards Ceremony at the School Nutrition Association’s Annual National Conference held in Las Vegas, Nevada.

The School Nutrition Association (SNA) is a national, non-profit professional organization representing 57,000 school nutrition professionals across the country. Founded in 1946, SNA and its members are dedicated to making healthy school meals and nutrition education available to all students. For more information on school meals, visit www.SchoolNutrition.org/SchoolMeals.