I stand for#RealSchoolFood

I stand for & believe wholeheartedly in #RealSchoolFood.  I mean, of course I do…. who wouldn’t?  Would you stand for #FakeSchoolFood? 
School Meal in RSU #14 with Local Grass Fed Beef, Local apple,
fresh lettuce & tomato

The thing is… we’ve been working towards and serving #RealSchoolFood for years now. Many of my colleagues in School Nutrition have been doing the same thing… serving up locally sourced food, Farm to School and #RealSchoolFood.   We’ve been working at this step by step, recipe by recipe.  It is exciting and rewarding… and a lot of work.  It takes a lot of work, a dedicated staff, a district with vision, and … a lot of money.

Our path to #RealSchoolFood didn’t start with a bunch of celebrities supporting a social media campaign, nudging us toward more wholesome food in our child nutrition program.  Our path to #RealSchoolFood began with a vision and a grant.  The vision of our district was to increase local foods & to begin preparing more of our menu items from scratch.  We were fortunate enough to receive grant funds to support our vision.  Grant funds to pay for food service equipment, grant funds to support staff development & culinary training.  Even so… the transition to #RealSchoolFood does not happen quickly or easily.  It is a process that doesn’t happen overnight, but menu item by menu item.  It involves educating our customers, taste testing and nutrition education. 
Believe it or not, our customers frequently come to us without a lot of experience with #RealFood.   We recently had a baked potato bar on the menu, and many of our young students did not even know what a baked potato was.  And we live in Maine, where potatoes are our #1 crop.    And so, in spite of all our efforts to serve and market #RealSchoolFood, our most popular lunch menus are often our most processed items.  Because of this, we educate our customers.  We taste test, we let them name our recipes, we talk to them about the health benefits of eating less processed food.   It’s baby steps, one recipe or menu item at a time.  And we hope it’s working. 
Students at Jordan Small Middle School LOVED our panko crusted
zucchini “fries”.

#RealSchoolFood also costs more money.  At least, this has been our experience.  And with our current federal reimbursement rate of approximately $3.00 per school lunch, we are barely breaking even.  This $3 per lunch is intended to cover all food, supply, labor (including benefits) and miscellaneous costs that it takes to make a lunch.  Cooking #RealSchoolFood takes more equipment, more staff, and more staff training to serve up food that doesn’t go from freezer to oven.  It takes time, culinary expertise, marketing & educating the students and their families.   Our district is fortunate, and because of our vision, we have been able to have a full time chef on staff.  Chef Sam not only works with our staff, developing their culinary skills and working on recipes, she also goes into the classroom and works with the students, taste testing & developing new menu items. 

Chef Sam taste tests curried carrot soup
with a group of students.

I guess all this is to really say – if you support #RealSchoolFood, support greater funding for the National School Lunch Program.  And visit your local school to see what they are serving.  Do they have the capacity to serve #RealSchoolFood?  The equipment? The storage space?  The expertise?  The money? Make sure you understand, not only the USDA guidelines, but also the financial component of the National School Lunch Program, and see what real #SchoolLunch #Superheroes are doing every day… probably in a district near you!

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