Spotlight on Putnam County Schools Food Services Program

Last Updated by Kate Spears on

More than 30 million children across the United States file through school cafeteria lines every day. This week on WCTE’s Get Ready To Learn radio show, host Cindy Putman is joined by Putnam County School System Program Supervisor for Food Services Kathlyn Walter to talk about what PCSS is doing to feed its students lunch. This is part one of a two part series.

Said Kathlyn, "We believe strongly in our mission to "Feed the Children" a student friendly, nutritious meal in a pleasant, safe, sanitary environment."

The School Nutrition Team has more than 150 full and part-time employees located at the Star Center and within each of the schools. Each school kitchen has its own unique identity, but is still a part of the School Nutrition team and follows the same menu, standards, policies and procedures.

PCSS food services is a self-funded department, using only federal funds, grants, and monies generated from the sale of school meals and catering to provide a nutritious, low cost school lunch and breakfast to Putnam County students. The department operates much like a food service business with established annual goals and strategic plans.

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.

In Putnam County alone, we serve 7,000 kids lunch every day. Walter tries to incorporate as much local produce from as many local vendors are possible. Students in all 19 schools in Putnam County are given breakfast and lunch. Jere Whitson Elementary has a special program where all students get a mid-morning snack of either a fresh fruit or vegetable.

There are very strict guidelines that food services has to follow. They plan the weekly menus, which are then shared on the Putnam County School System website and are also published in the Sunday Herald Citizen.

When planning the menus, Walter says they have to look at minimum and maximum calorie guidelines for each grade and trans frats are not allowed. They also consider vitamin and mineral content and try to use whole grains as much as possible in breads.

You might remember your own school lunch experience with an abundance of greasy, fried foods like french fries and pizza. Now, students only get french fries once a week and pizza once a week, with a whole grain crust. There is much more of a focus on teaching kids how to make healthy choices.

Walters likes to work with vendors who have natural products that are GMO free, and she also tries to incorporate foods with “clean labels.”  

53% of all students in Putnam County are on free and reduced lunch. There is a simple household application that parents can fill out online (find it here). There is a focus on confidentiality for students who qualify for the program, and this is important to all the staff.

It’s important to remember that it’s never too late to apply for free and reduced lunch for your child in Putnam County. Perhaps you’ve had a situational change in your family that might cause you to qualify when you didn’t before. You can always apply each month. This is a great program available for folks who need it. We urge you not to be embarrassed to apply.

Walter went on to say "We pride ourselves on food safety, and each of our managers have attended nationally recognized food safety and nutrition trainings. We hope to encourage all staff to pursue further School Nutrition related training."

She takes her position very seriously. Her mother was the nutrition program director for Maryville, Tennessee city schools so she grew up understanding the importance of having really great foods in the school system. Kathlyn loves that she can help provide different foods for kids they might not be able to get at home.  

And she also works closely with staff and all cafeteria supervisors in the schools. Cafeteria managers spend time with students each day so they understand what foods the students like and don’t like. Walter’s team is able to take this information and adjust accordingly.

Click here to learn more about the Putnam County School System Food Service Department.

For parent resources such as tips for picky eaters, how to add more fruits and veggies to your child's diet, and recipes, visit PBS Parents.

To contact Kathlyn Walter,  call 528-1847 ext 1214 or email


Tune in each Saturday morning at 9:30 for the WCTE Get Ready To Learn Radio Show, with host Cindy Putman on Zimmer Broadcasting's The HUB 107.7 FM and 1400 AM. 

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