2015 SNF Scholarship Series: Mari Peters, Assistant Cook, Mound Westonka High School. East Minnetrista, Minnesota

One of our favorite aspects of ANC 2015 was the opportunity to connect with the many SNA/SNF scholarship recipients in attendance. In the coming weeks we will be sharing their stories with you: who they are, where they are from, and how their SNA/SNF scholarship made a difference in their personal, educational, and professional lives.

Mari Peters came by her love of cooking through her family; specifically, her mother. “My mom was a great cook,” recalled Mari. “And my sisters—everyone but me, really—were in 4H, and as a family we just always spent a lot of time in the kitchen together.”

moundwestonkalogoEven though she didn’t have formal training as a cook, Mari’s lifelong passion for food inspired her to work her way up from dishwasher to line server to assistant cook at Mound Westonka High School in East Minnetrista, Minnesota—a position she has now held for three years.

“I love it!” says Mari of her job, where she actively works to get students engaged with the food she is serving. “I’m all about customer service,” explained Mari, who says that trust is the key element in her relationship with the students.

“If the kids like you, and if you are honest with them, they will try more food,” said Mari. “I am trying to get these kids to step out of their comfort zone, and I think that requires honesty.” Some students will go through the line and eat a chicken patty every single day of their high school career, but Mari’s goal is to tempt that student with something new.

“If we are serving something on the line and the kids ask about it, I tell them what it is, and if they ask me what I think about it, I’m honest,” explained Mari. “If I like whatever it is, I say it’s really good, but if I don’t personally care for it I say something like, ‘Well, I don’t care for it that much, but you may really like it’ and the students seem more receptive to that. I tell them as a kid I didn’t like macaroni and cheese much, but I kept trying it—that’s what kids are supposed to do. Keep trying.”

Mari received a First Timers scholarship to attend her first Annual National Conference in Salt Lake City, and it was an inspiring experience for her.

“The First Timers scholarship helped me [defray] the cost of attending. Without it, I probably would not have attended due to cost,” said Mari. “I’m so honored to receive the award—it’s such a privilege.”

Keeping her focus on customer service-oriented education sessions, Mari soaked up as much experience as she could, connecting with colleagues from around the country to learn about their challenges and successes along the way.

“I met so many people, and it was such a beautiful setting—I couldn’t have asked for a better first time conference experienced,” said Mari. “My boss Laura Metzger told me about the scholarship, and she applied for it for me—when I got it, I was just amazed!”

Mari is already looking ahead at San Antonio for ANC 2016, and is spreading the word with coworkers about the scholarships available to them through SNA and SNF.

“I told a coworker about the scholarships and encouraged her to apply so that we can attend together,” explained Mari. “I would still go to conferences, even without a scholarship, because I like to learn. I’m always enthralled by the subject matter, and it’s always a learning experience—you learn something from every class you go to.”

Check out the Mound Westonka Food and Nutrition Services website, where the Westonka Foodies meet to communicate school breakfast and school lunch news, as well as information on summer feeding, and other great school lunch resources. Don’t forget to follow them on Facebook and Twitter!

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