LINQ VP of Nutrition Services Carol Weekly Chats About School Nutrition

Carol Weekly Headshot VP of Nutrition Services Interview School Nutrition

Carol Weekly is currently the Vice President of Nutrition Services for LINQ. Carol spent 15 years as an operator prior to switching over to the industry side of the business. She is a Registered Dietitian and a School Nutrition Specialist.  

Throughout her career, she has served in a range of roles for the School Nutrition Association of Arizona: President; President-Elect; Vice President; Exhibits chair for the state conference; and the Public Policy and Legislative Chair for over six years.  

In addition to her service at the state level, Carol also served as the Nutrition Chair for the School Nutrition Association and was a member of the Executive Committee. Carol is serving as the SNIC Co-Chair as the industry representative and will be speaking at SNIC 2021.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. What led you into school nutrition? Can you share a little of your backstory with us? 

I majored in Nutrition in college. After I graduated, I started working in long-term care and quickly realized that was not where I wanted to be. While at the nursing home, I met a dietitian who had interned at a school district in Phoenix, and my wheels started to spin. 

It was a requirement that I complete an internship to get my RD, and I really needed to keep working because my boyfriend at the time (now husband!) was playing minor league baseball — we had bills to pay. An internship at Paradise Valley Unified School District would allow me to remain in Phoenix and, bonus, it actually paid (that is not normal in an internship). I applied and was luckily accepted for an 8-month internship.  

Paradise Valley was my first introduction into the world of school nutrition and I really enjoyed it. After my internship ended, I worked at a clinic for a year until I was able to get back into schools. I couldn’t wait to start serving students again! 

I worked as an operator for 15 years, serving five years as the District Manger at Creighton Elementary School District under a fantastic Food Service Director named Linda Daugherty. And then I served as a director for 10 years at Queen Creek Unified School District.  

I truly love school nutrition and expected to be a Lunch Lady for life! Even in my new role, I like to think I can still claim a little of that as I try to give back in a different way. 

What were the biggest lessons you learned while serving as the Director of Nutrition for Queen Creek Unified? How do you apply those to your current role with TITAN? 

For me it has always been about the students. I do this job because they are my passion. I learned that, while you can’t always make everyone happy, it is essential to try and to always do what you do with integrity.  

There were several “big lessons” during my time as director, and most of them involve communication.  

  • Sometimes people will take advantage of your passion and there is power in saying no. 
  • Communication is vital — others can’t hear your message if you don’t share it.  
  • Never assume others know what you and your team are doing. You must tell them! 
  • Thanking and recognizing your staff is so important. The staff is the key to any successful operation, so it’s important to not lose sight of their contributions and thank them. Sometimes it is the small things that make the biggest difference. 

What are your favorite parts about working with school nutrition departments? Why is it your favorite? 

There are many, but my favorite is simply listening to all the different and amazing things each department does! Some of the recipes are so creative and sound delicious and the passion from the different districts is always clear.

School nutrition is made up of incredible, passionate, talented individuals. Being able to help and learn from them is invaluable. 

The COVID-19 pandemic made a big impact on how schools operated in 2020. Nutrition departments across the country stepped up to ensure no child went hungry. How do you think the pandemic will affect the future of school food service? 

My wish is that the universal free would stay. When Congress and the USDA review the program, I hope they see how successful it was and how it removed the stigma of free versus reduced versus paid and find a way to keep it going indefinitely.  

District operators have so many other things they need to worry about and collecting debts shouldn’t be one of them. The pandemic shined a light on how incredible the school nutrition staff are. They truly stepped up and I hope that appreciation for all they do never stops. 

What do you perceive are the biggest challenges for school nutrition programs right now? How do you think nutrition directors should meet those challenges? 

The constant changing environment is tough on everyone. I have seen operators change directions sometimes multiple times within the same week. Not knowing what is happening is the biggest challenge: when schools will open, when they will close, if they need to focus on hybrid, multiple-day delivery, in person or daily pick-up.  

School nutrition directors have stepped up to the plate, and they should continue to lean on others for help. School nutrition is a very fraternal organization, so if you ask there is always someone that is willing to help. 

Innovating a nutrition program can take a lot of work, time, and budget. What recommendations do you have for directors who would like to make changes to their programs, but feel stuck? 

Never re-invent the wheel! Someone has been there and done that, so reach out to your peers for help. Lean on the industry: we have the privilege of working with a lot of operators and may have seen what you are asking for from another operation. We can help point you in the right direction or make introductions.  

Venture outside your circle and attend the School Nutrition Association conferences, both nationally and locally, like SNIC 2021; these conferences offer amazing content with the speakers and breakout sessions, but they also offer networking you may be unable to get if you just stay within the circle of your district or city. 

What are you looking forward to most at SNIC 2021?  

Being able to see familiar faces and meet new ones! I absolutely LOVE SNA conferences, and SNIC has been a favorite for years. While the keynote speakers and breakout sessions are always on point, it’s the networking and catching up with old friends that is my absolute favorite.  

By nature, I am an introvert (I know–shocker). But when I am at SNA conference, I am in my element and can just be myself. I am super excited for the amazing speakers and the virtual networking. And I have my fingers crossed that, since SNIC 2021 is virtual, we will get to see many more operators and industry that normally can’t attend in person! 

Finally, we all have a favorite school lunch, and most people say it’s pizza day. Mine happens to be the Thanksgiving meal – I’m a sucker for stuffing! What was your favorite school meal as a child and what is it now? 

I grew up in a tiny town in northern New Mexico where my cousin was the lunch lady. They made everything from scratch, so it was like eating at home. I know you asked for my favorite, but I had two:  

  • #1 – Cheese Enchiladas with homemade pinto beans; 
  • #2 – Hot Ham and Cheese made with homemade bread.  

My current favorite school lunch meal is the Arizona Gold Bean & Cheese Burrito. 

Outside of meeting you at SNIC 2021, where can people follow you to keep up with your thoughts on the school nutrition industry? 

Anyone who’d like to stay in touch can find me on LinkedIn

The virtual SNIC 2021 is just around the corner! Join Co-Advisor Carol Weekly and other amazing nutrition professionals as they discuss leading through times of change. It is bound to be an event loaded with useful information for your program – we hope you can make it!

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