READING – When you’re growing up, lunch is a ubiquitous part of the school experience. It’s usually one of the highlights of the day for a student, especially if the food is good.

But have you ever stopped and wondered how that food got onto your plate? Why does the school offer this meal instead of that, and who is the one that decides?

Making those decisions is a full-time job, as today school lunches have to adhere to a variety of federal, state and local nutritional standards. As of last month, Reading has a new decision-maker at the helm, with Danielle Collins recently took over as the town’s new Director of Food Services.

Collins started in mid-October and is serving as the joint director for both the Reading and Wakefield Public Schools. A longtime school nutritionist, Collins came to Reading from the Methuen Public Schools after also spending time in Chelmsford and at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.

“Oh I love it, I absolutely love it,” Collins said of being in Reading. “The community is wonderful, the students are amazing, I can’t say enough about the welcome I’ve received.”

Originally from Lexington, Collins has always been passionate about food. Her parents owned a restaurant when she was young, and after studying business administration at UMass Lowell and earning an MBA from Rivier University, she hoped to make a career out of it as well.

“I’ve always been a foodie, after graduating from college I worked in the corporate food service industry for many years, and when I had my children I went back to St. Anselm’s,” Collins said. “My husband is a principal in New Hampshire and I was looking for balance in my life, so that’s how I came to the school nutrition world.”

Since making that jump, Collins has become an active participant in the school nutrition communities in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts. She currently serves as treasurer for the School Nutrition Association of Massachusetts, and previously served as president of the School Nutrition Association of New Hampshire.

In her current role, Collins oversees the nutrition programs at all of the schools in Reading and Wakefield. She is responsible for the programs’ funding, making sure all meals adhere to federal, state and local standards, and that the food itself is good. After all, healthy food won’t do anybody any good if nobody is willing to actually eat it, she said.

Since her arrival, Collins said she’s been impressed by the quality of Reading’s system.

“I’ve inherited an excellent program, which hasn't always been the case in my career,” Collins said. “I do intend to make some minor changes initially to try and mix things up, but this is an excellent program.”

As for what makes a good, healthy meal, Collins said she’s a big believer in the importance of fruits and vegetables and says any time you can introduce more into your diet, it’s going to be a good thing. Whether it’s your every day school lunch or a big Thanksgiving dinner, making the right food choices can help improve your quality of life, especially if you learn to develop those healthy eating habits early.

“I have a genuine belief in health and wellness, I’m an organic gardener and I believe healthy habits that form in childhood last a lifetime,” Collins said. “I believe in the importance of the work that we’re doing.”

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