For Sandy Kotson, head cook at John Marshall High School, the most rewarding part of her job is feeding young students.
"It's amazing. Once these students graduate, you'll run into them on the street and they'll say, 'I never knew how well you were feeding us,'" Kotson said. "A lot of these kids say they miss the cooks the most."
Kotson's passion for cooking was recognized recently at the West Virginia School Nutrition Annual Conference at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, where she received the Louise Sublette Award of Leadership Excellence in School Nutrition. Kotson, who has worked at JMHS for nine years, was chosen from cooks from schools across the state.
Kotson's work with the JMHS kitchen staff to incorporate more vegetables from the USDA's red and orange vegetable group earned her the award, which is considered the highest honor a school nutritional manager can earn. Kotson will to on to the School Nutrition Association's National Conference in Boston, Mass.
According to Kotson, school cooks across the country are being urged to use more red or orange vegetables such as tomatoes, red peppers, sweet potatoes and pumpkin, which are often the food group used the least in schools. Kotson's chicken taco wrap recipe contains a half cup of these vegetables, and won first place at the conference's cook-off. She received $500 in prize money and the winning recipe will be served in schools in May.
Marshall County Child Nutrition Director Debbie Derico also took home the Director of the Year Award, which recognizes the contributions of school nutrition directors who manage effective programs to provide healthy meals to all students at the conference. Derico will also go on to the national conference with Kotson.