NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — Wednesday was the first day of the North Dakota School Nutrition’s Association (NDSNA) Conference.

The organization works to promote the highest standards for child nutrition programs, as well as advocate for the needs of children at both the state and national levels.

“Today, we are focusing on all of the food requirements that we are required to offer students who participate in the National School Breakfast and national school lunch programs,” said the ND Department of Public Instruction’s Nutrition Grant Coordinator, Emily Karel, “and tomorrow, we will focus on a lot of staff retention and motivation — that type of stuff — for those with the North Dakota School of Nutrition Association,”

This year’s conference focuses on school food service staff, and teaching them about how to provide healthy meals for students.

“Making sure we are providing healthy well-balanced meals to students that they will actually eat and enjoy,” Karel explained, “so that they can continue to learn and grow to become our future leaders.”

The conference is also a chance for those involved with area schools to see what new food items will be available to them.

“We also showcase a food show,” said NDSNA’s President-Elect, Gina Giovannoni, “which will give directors and managers the opportunity to taste new items that fall within the guidelines of school nutrition.”

Officials with the conference say there is a lot of work and planning that goes into making sure students are getting healthy meals.

“I don’t know if the public is aware of how much planning we do to make sure that our meals qualify,” Giovannoni continued, “and that they have every component — the grains, the dairy, the meat, the fruits, and the vegetables.”

Just like many industries, since the COVID-19 Pandemic, the nutrition industry is still experiencing worker shortages.

“I’m in Bismarck,” Giovannoni stated, “so we have a lot more opportunities for vendors and for deliveries. In those smaller town districts, there’s maybe one school feeding all the kids K-12. If they are out of deliveries, they don’t really have a Costco or a Sam’s or a big store they can run to. They have to make do with what they have.”

The conference gives those in the nutrition industry a chance to voice their concerns and talk about the difficulties they have been facing — and perhaps find solutions to those concerns.