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Dietitian helps feed nutritious meals to local students, school staff

Mike Jaquays
Staff writer
Posted 3/7/23

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Hayley Mielnicki said she feels like “the head lunch lady” as she plans the breakfast and lunch menus for 16 area school districts.

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Dietitian helps feed nutritious meals to local students, school staff


UTICA — Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Hayley Mielnicki said she feels like “the head lunch lady” as she plans the breakfast and lunch menus for 16 area school districts.

Mielnicki works in a shared capacity for both Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES and the Utica City School District as their school dietitian. She oversees 15 rural districts for OHM BOCES and 13 city school buildings within the Utica district, Mielnicki said.

She recalled it was a passion for cooking from an early age — and the inspiration of growing up in a family that valued healthy eating — that prompted her to pursue her current career.

“It all started when I was 10 or 11,” Mielnicki recalled. “I really loved to cook and watch the Food Network. I was always in the kitchen and my family was super supportive and great taste testers for me.”

She took as many culinary classes as she could while attending Sauquoit Valley Central School. But Mielnicki later decided she didn’t really want to get into a cooking field where she would be working odd hours into a restaurant.

She also wanted to make more of an impact than simply cooking for the patrons.

“I didn’t want the restaurant life,” she said. “I wanted to work 9 to 5, and also be able to make a difference in my community.”

A class of 2014 graduate from Sauquoit Valley Central School, Mielnicki graduated in 2017 from Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., with a bachelor’s degree in culinary nutrition and a concentration in dietetics.

She continued her studies with 1,200 supervised hours in a dietetic internship from 2018-2019 in the Baldwinsville school district. The internship was through Syracuse University, giving her hands-on practice in the field and them free labor, she quipped.

Mielnicki earned her master’s degree in dietetics from SUNY Oneonta in 2022.

Now working with “a great team of fellow nutrition professionals,” Mielnicki plans out the school menus with an intensive consideration of producing nutrient-dense, well-rounded meals. They tabulate factors like the content of sugars, fats, sodium and calories; make sure students have fresh fruit and vegetable options; serve either 1% or fat-free milk; and also address any students’ allergies or special dietary needs.

She also communicates regularly with lunch managers and kitchen staff, including the staff who used to serve her at her alma mater.

“It’s a team effort,” Mielnicki said.

She also offers nutrition education in classrooms and for sports teams, and is constantly looking to add new menu items to the breakfasts and lunches to keep them exciting for the students and staff as well, Mielnicki said.

Holidays also call for something special, like shamrock-shaped chicken nuggets for St. Patrick’s Day or red gelatin for Valentine’s Day.

“We try to do fun things when we can,” she said.

The Central Kitchen in Utica makes breakfast and lunch for the 10 elementary schools in the Utica school district that don’t have kitchen facilities of their own, Mielnicki said. Staff at the kitchen start the day at 5 a.m. with the first run of meals heading out to the schools by 7 a.m.

Breakfasts are mainly grab-and-go cold meals, she noted. Lunches are hot and sent out in case warmers. The schools receiving them have warming equipment to keep them hot, even if they don’t have kitchens, Mielnicki said.

There are also afternoon snacks for events combined with a learning program, she added.

School meals for many area students are free. Staff members pay very little for them. They won’t be able to go anywhere else for that cost and receive such a nutritious meal, she said.

“They are all getting a really nutrient-packed meal,” Mielnicki promised.

On her own, Mielnicki’s own “Health by Hayl” website features an abundance of recipes that were created and posted to help “fuel each and every body,” she said.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day this week on Wednesday, March 8. The day salutes registered dietitian nutritionists as the nation’s food and nutrition experts, committed to improving the health of their patients, clients and communities.

Today, Mielnicki feels planning school meals has fulfilled her goals of making a difference.

“I like making an impact and knowing every day children are being fed nutritious meals,” Mielnicki said. “I love being involved in the community where I grew up. And if you ever need a mood booster, go and serve lunch at a school.”

Mielnicki welcomes questions, comments and recipe suggestions ... email her at or visit


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