By Mike Patrick, Republican-American
NAUGATUCK — Along with reading, writing and arithmetic, borough students learn to make pickles. The lessons are meant to teach more than culinary skills.
“It teaches the kids that their food doesn’t come from a grocery store,” said Kate Murphy, food services director for Naugatuck public schools. “It teaches them that it comes from a farm and it doesn’t just come in a jar; that there’s a process to it. And it gives them a better understanding of where their food actually comes from.”
The nonprofit School Nutrition Association of Connecticut (SNACT) cited “outside the box” programs like this in naming Murphy the state’s 2021 Director of the Year.
Murphy is also the incoming president of the association.
“Kate Murphy goes above and beyond the call of a child nutrition director and her efforts inspire her colleagues and staff in their service to students and the community,” said group President Erica Biagetti, who is director of food and nutrition services for Cheshire Public Schools. “Her passion for providing healthy school meals and promoting nutrition education in fun, creative ways makes us look forward to her work in the role as SNACT president next year.”
The organization praised Murphy for her more than 24 years of engaging students with lessons about nutrition and health. Murphy works for Sodexo, a private company that runs the cafeteria program for Naugatuck Public Schools. She has spent the last 10 years with the Naugatuck school system.
Murphy has helped to create a food pantry for food insecure students and participates in the state’s Farm to School program.
“Not a lot of kids get the experience of going to a farmers market, so I brought the farmers market to their schools, and they were able to see that it’s local product,” Murphy said.
The organization noted that Murphy works to ensure all students have access to food during the COVID-19 pandemic, and personally handed meals to students getting on the bus and via curbside distribution.
It’s the curbside distribution, Murphy said, that helps encourage healthier eating habits at home. Parents picking up free school meals, she said, find they include healthy and tasty elements, such as parmesan-roasted cauliflower and fresh black bean salad with cilantro and lime juice.
“Parents are actually seeing that meals are not the same as they were when they were a child,” she said.
Among other reasons the group cited for honoring Murphy are her development of an association social media campaign and her advocacy for the provision of school meals at no charge into the future, including a meeting on the topic with U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District.
That topic will be a priority of the group under her presidency, she said.
Providing healthy options for school meals remains a personal priority, she said.
“Kids are more sophisticated eaters now than they were when I was a kid. They want more fresh product, more salads, more sandwiches, more scratch cooking,” she said.
Murphy received her award at a virtual ceremony earlier this month, and assumes the presidency in August.