In Triton, staff were joined by USDA Food & Nutrition Services Administrator Cindy Long, Northeast Regional Administrator Lizbeth Silbermann, and DESE Commissioner Jeffrey C. Riley for a tour of the cafeteria facilities and the chance to sit down with 12th graders who shared their experiences with free School Meals for All the last few years.
As athletes and active students, some can spend the day at school from 7:30am to 6:30pm. The school meals and snacks they receive are critical to fuel their day, and being able to have a hot meal for breakfast and lunch if they forget to pack something or run out of time for breakfast at home has made a huge difference for them.
On the menu that day, School Nutrition Director Sarah Littmann was serving a delicious whole grain pizza from local operator Gill’s Pizza Corp and house made ranch kale chips. Like in many schools across the state, Universal School Meals has allowed Littmann to reinvest back in the school nutrition program through the federal and state reimbursements for all the students participating in school meals. When more children eat school meals, more funding comes back to the district. Families are no longer facing school lunch debt, a drain on district budgets when it goes unpaid that had left many school nutrition departments at a loss before Universal School Meals.
“Universal School Meals has given us financial stability to improve the quality of meals being served. We’re able to bring in new equipment to our schools and do scratch cooking trainings. School districts across the state are seeing these improvements.” -Sarah Littmann
Project Bread staff also visited Northampton’s JFK Middle School in Florence last week, where the school nutrition staff engage regularly in trainings with Project Bread Chef Educators to improve their meal program as part of the School Food Fellowship.
Led by School Nutrition Director Mistelle Hannah, Northampton School District has participated in the fellowship program since it started in October 2021. School Food Fellows participate in monthly professional development trainings and onsite meetings with Project Bread’s Chef Educators, including the development of new recipes that cater to supply chain limitations and meet USDA nutrition standards. Hannah has been able to use funding from Universal School Meals to build out her kitchen capacity, the School Food Fellowship has helped expand her staff capacity.
During our visit, middle schoolers were enjoying a “Freshampton Cheesesteak” on the school lunch menu, a recipe developed by JFK Head Cook Kristin Thibedau during the fellowship and adaptable to beef, chicken and vegetarian options. After having taste tested with the students, the “Freshampton Cheesesteak” made it to the menu, and is now a recipe that our Chefs can bring to other schools as a new recipe option.
Chefs Sam and Ryan were also hosting a Sample Day, featuring a recipe developed in Quincy around Lunar New Year: a Salt & Pepper Chicken or Tofu with Rice sampling. Students came up to grab their taste and left us with their feedback. The recipe was a clear winner!
In each lunch period, students came through quickly, grabbing their free school meals, punching in a student code at the register, and moving through the line seamlessly, alongside their friends, without any stress about who’s covering their school meals. They enjoyed nutritious and delicious lunches as a part of their school day and even got to have a role in choosing what ends up on the next school menu.
This is the future that Project Bread is advocating to ensure for every student across the Commonwealth, and we are so close! As Massachusetts’ state legislature debates the final state budget for fiscal year 2024, we hope to see School Meals for All continue to be a priority, for next year and permanently. Learn more and get involved with our Feed Kids campaign.