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Every Metro Schools student can eat healthy meals at no cost

District to offer universal school meals regardless of income

2014-02-27 08.34.12When school starts on August 6, 2014, every student in Metro Schools will have access to a nutritious breakfast and lunch at no cost. This revolution in the way the district offers school meals means fewer students will go hungry and the stigma associated with accepting free meals will be erased.

The 2014-15 school year marks year one of a four-year commitment with the USDA and its Community Eligibility Provision. The program will reimburse the district for nearly 100% of the cost of providing school meals to all students. With this change, district officials expect more students to take advantage of the healthy meals available at schools. This will have a ripple effect on academic achievement, student discipline and school culture.

“This is a huge win for our families,” said Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register. “We’re firm believers in educating the whole child and providing them what they need for productive school days. If a child is hungry, he’s going to have trouble learning. No child should go hungry and no child should beembarrassed about accepting a meal. By making it universal, we don’t have to  single out any child and we can make family budgets a little less tight.”

There are no income requirements and there is no application needed to take part in this program. All 85,000 students in Metro Schools will have access to meals at no cost.  Rather than filling out an application for meal assistant, every family in the district will be required to update information with the district including address, phone number and the number of people in their home along with a yes/no question about whether household income is above or below a stated level.

2014-02-27 08.41.08“We expect this to be a cost-neutral program, so it was really an easy decision,” said Spencer Taylor, director of the Nutrition Service Department. “Our goal is not only to feed every child who wants a hot meal, but also to educate them about healthy eating and new foods. Some of these kids might not get fresh fruits and vegetables at home very often. If we can give a child a piece of fruit he’s never had before or let him try whole grain bread for the first time, he might make better choices outside school, too.”

Metro Schools cafés serve 12.5 million meals every year. Every lunch is required to offer at lease one serving each of fruit, vegetable, protein, whole grain and dairy, with strict regulations on the amount of sodium, fat and calories in each meal. The Nutrition Service Department has a trained professional chef on staff who helps design recipes that meet all of the requirements and are also appealing to children.

“If kids don’t want to eat something we make, there’s really no point in serving it,” said Taylor. “We are always tweaking our recipes to make them tastier and more visually attractive. And we’re always looking for ways to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables, including some items from local farms. The trick is doing it all for $1.18 per plate, which is our limit on cost. It’s difficult, but not impossible. I am proud of the food we serve and proud of our café staffs for preparing it in mass quantities every school day.”

Nutrition Services is a self-sufficient department of Metro Schools, with its own budget and operations. Implementation for this program begins July 1.