Alexandra Stern, NG22

School: Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy 

Degree: Ph.D. in Agriculture, Food and Environment  

How did you become passionate about nutrition, especially in schools?  

I love kids and previously worked in schools, serving as a nutrition education coordinator for DC Central Kitchen. I was really involved in the cafeteria, so I knew how impactful school lunches can be.  

For my dissertation, I looked at sustainability—like greenhouse gas emissions, water use and land use—in the National School Lunch Program, which serves around 40 percent of U.S. children every day. For many, that can be a good portion of their calories for the day, including breakfast, lunch, and sometimes supper. My goal is to help students set up healthy habits for today, so future consumption in the U.S. shifts to be more sustainable.  

What did you find, and how can your work help establish healthier, lower environmental impact meals for kids?  

My findings were consistent with previous literature: Eat less beef. Nationally, lower impact meals had more nuts and seeds, more whole grains, more seafood and fish. High-impact foods had more animal products.  

Then I worked with Boston Public Schools (BPS) and helped design menus with them that considered environmental impact as well as cost, student acceptance, and nutritional quality. They’ve been so open and receptive to my ideas, and we’ve built a lot of trust in the relationship. The models I ran and the menus I created are something BPS can use right now, plus, the software program I created can be used in the future as consumption, prices, or ingredients change.  

"In ten years, I will be…  "

Enjoying fresh-baked bread with my children as we sit in our backyard playing with our dogs.  

I love baking. At Friedman, I first researched grains and bread through a collaboration with the Breadlab at Washington State University, though that didn’t end up being my dissertation. Through that, I joined a grain share. Once a year, I go and pick up wheat berries from local farmers who grow really unique stuff, specific to New England. I have about 15 pounds of spelt and rye and wheat berries now, and I mill them at home to make waffles and pancakes—I’d like to make more bread, too. The nutritional quality is different, because you’re getting the actual whole grain and the vitamins and the minerals are the freshest.  

This profile originally appeared as part of the series “Profiles in Inspiration: Commencement 2022 Spotlights."

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