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Food For Thought

Featured Photo from Food For Thought

They’ve revamped the entire school district’s dining program, and they fed countless kids in need during the pandemic. Now, leaders of the SCPS Red Apple Dining initiative are getting the national recognition they deserve.

School cafeteria food. Just the mere mention of the term likely conjures a wide variety of images... and none of them is good: Colorless fatty foods, like boiled hot dogs and mystery meat slathered in gravy. Tasteless canned vegetables and syrupy canned fruit. Soggy French fries and tater tots. Sugary sodas and chocolate milks.

Fortunately, in Seminole County Public Schools, those images are a distant memory, and even the word “cafeteria” is now a thing of the past. In recent years, SCPS Dining Services have been transformed into Red Apple Dining, an innovative concept designed to provide the schoolchildren in our community with delicious, nutritious meals that will contribute to lifelong healthy eating habits.

And now, the program and its leaders are being rewarded for their delectable work.

At the forefront of this mission is Richard Miles, a registered dietician/nutritionist who is Red Apple Dining’s coordinator of nutrition and wellness and a person who absolutely radiates positivity. Since arriving in Seminole County in 2010, Richard and the Red Apple Dining team have made significant changes at every school in our district, serving delicious, nutritious foods with a focus on service and genuine hospitality.

Richard was originally hired as the SCPS Dining Services coordinator of special programs. About five years later, to implement the new Red Apple Dining mission and vision, the district created Richard’s current position. Since then, more than a dozen campuses have completely renovated their dining facilities, and all 60 have renovated their culture.

“When I arrived, there was already a forward-thinking leadership team – the future just hadn’t become a reality yet,” says Richard, who lives in Sanford with his wife Michele; their three children Condoleezza (age 8), Martin (6), and William (2); and his parents Jan and Irv. “We knew we wanted to offer things like more fresh fruit and vegetables, and I was one of the people who helped figure out how to do it.”

Richard and the Red Apple Dining team have done an extraordinary job, and others around the country have taken notice.
Earlier this year Richard received the Silver Spirit Award, a prestigious national honor in the 2021 FAME (Foodservice Achievement Management Excellence) Awards for school nutritional professionals.

“Richard is just an amazing person,” says Lee Ann Golden, district manager for Red Apple Dining. “He has an incredible heart and vision, and he always wants what’s best for our kids and all our guests. This is a passion for him, not a job, and that’s very apparent to all of us.”

Your Favorite Restaurant
So, now, instead of school cafeterias, Seminole County has campus restaurants. Instead of students or customers, they have guests. And Red Apple Dining team members, who are specially trained to provide outstanding service, never refer to the healthy, freshly-made meals they serve as school lunch or school breakfast.

“Our mission statement is to nourish and enrich the lives of our guests through an exceptional dining experience – we want to go beyond just making food available,” says Richard, whose smile is always apparent, even when he wears a protective mask. “When we say things like campus restaurants rather than cafeteria, we feel that better describes the quality that our guests are receiving.”

The vision of Richard and the Red Apple Dining team is apparent throughout Seminole County. All campus restaurants now offer a wide variety of colorful fresh fruit and vegetables, antibiotic-free and hormone-free white-meat chicken, whole grain pastas, low-fat mozzarella for on-campus pizzas, and other healthier, appealing options. The produce is locally grown, and the menu items are often made fresh daily in each school’s kitchen by enthusiastic Red Apple Dining team members.

At Lake Brantley High School, for example, the state-of-the-art Patriot’s Pointe dining complex is a highlight model of the future of Red Apple Dining in Seminole County. On any given day, guests at the Altamonte Springs campus can visit one of Patriot’s Pointe’s five micro-restaurants, each offering everything from gourmet coffee to freshly made pizzas, custom burrito bowls, Asian favorites, and spicy chicken sandwiches. Every SCPS campus restaurant allows guests to select unlimited fresh fruits at breakfast and unlimited fresh fruits and vegetables with lunch.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Red Apple Dining provided freshly made meals to all guests at no charge during the past school year, and that will continue through this summer’s session. Free meals have also been made available at 15 convenient drive-thru pickup locations for remote learners.

“It’s about helping our guests establish healthy eating habits that not only propel them for success in the classroom, but beyond,” Richard says. “That’s why we are designing an environment where the healthy choice is an easy choice.”

From Motown to Our Town
For Richard, the choice to make a career out of his passion for nutrition was also an easy one – although it was not his intention when he enrolled at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, where he grew up. Richard was planning to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a doctor, pursuing a career in sports medicine. But he soon came to the realization that doctors were primarily treating injuries and not focusing on prevention or long-term health. After receiving his undergraduate degree in food science and human nutrition, Richard decided to cancel his plans to go to medical school and instead enrolled at Michigan State University, where he received his master’s degree in community nutrition.

Now, instead of helping 20 or so patients a day as a doctor, Richard and the Red Apple Dining team are making decisions that can potentially benefit 67,000 schoolchildren every single day.

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