Alumna receives national recognition in food service industry

March 10, 2014

A UW-Stout alumna has been recognized in the food service management industry.

Katie Wilson was presented the Silver Friend of Child Nutrition Award recently at the National Foodservice Achievement Management Excellence awards ceremony.

Wilson is executive director of the National Food Service Management Institute at the University of Mississippi in University, Miss.

The institute is part of the School of Applied Science at the university and the only federally funded national center dedicated to applied research; education and training; and technical assistance for child nutrition programs.

Katie WilsonWilson has been executive director since July 2010. Prior to that, she was a school nutrition director in three Wisconsin school districts — West Salem, Middleton and Onalaska —and served as president of the national School Nutrition Association and of the School Nutrition Foundation.

Wilson, originally from Milwaukee, has two degrees from UW-Stout, a bachelor's degree in dietetics, 1981, and a master's degree in food and nutrition sciences, 1984.

She chose UW-Stout because it had been recommended for its small size and well-known dietetics program. "I always loved chemistry and home economics, and my seventh-grade home economics teacher talked about the science of nutrition being dietetics," she said.

In the past 25 years, she has observed changes in the understanding of the relationship to school nutrition and learning. "I have seen really great, healthy programs and really poorly run, not so healthy programs," she said. "I have always said the program is only as good as the district administrator wants it to be."

In 2010 the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act was passed to educate and train individuals who administer school nutrition programs. "This is something that has been needed for a long time, and it is a big change for programs," Wilson said.

The biggest challenge Wilson finds in the area of school meals is public perception. "The media glorifies these 'celebrity' chefs that really don't know much about nutrition or the requirements of the federal school meals program or the challenges of working in a school environment," she said.

She also is challenged by the universal problem of maintaining a trained workforce, which exists in institutional food service as well as restaurants.

Another challenge is the amount of time students have to eat lunch. "The lunch period has eroded over the years, and students have less and less time to get through the line and sit down to eat. If more fresh fruits and vegetables are served — those take time to consume," she said.

Wilson trains professionals and is dedicated to the goal that all children should have access to safe, healthy food at school.

For more information about the UW-Stout B.S. degree in dietetics, go to the website. For more information about the M.S. degree in food and nutritional sciences, click here.