August 11, 2023

RSU 14 receives USDA subgrant to improve school meal quality

By Ed Pierce

RSU 14 has learned that it will receive up to $150,000 as part of a cooperative agreement to develop and implement the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthy Meals Initiative aiming to improve the quality and nutrition of meals offered in local schools.

Windham/Raymond Schools Director of
School Nutrition Jeanne Reilly shows a 
healthy meal served to RSU 14 students.
RSU 14 has learned it will receive a 
subgrant of up to $150,000 to develop
and implement the U.S. Department of
Agriculture's Healthy Meals Initiative
aiming to improve the quality and
nutrition of meals offered in local schools.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is awarding $30 million in subgrants to 264 school districts across 44 states and the District of Columbia, including 12 districts in Maine. The funds are being distributed by the national nonprofit Action for Healthy Kids, which is dedicated to improving children’s health and well-being by bringing together and mobilizing educators, families, and other key stakeholders to help children lead healthy lives.

“Students in every community deserve access to healthy and nutritious meals,” said USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small. “With these funds, small and rural school districts will be able to modernize their operations and provide more nutritious meals, helping students succeed in the classroom and beyond.”

She said that school districts receiving funding will be able to use it to support them in improving the nutritional quality of their meals and modernizing their food service operations through efforts which could include innovative food staff training programs, kitchen updates and renovations, redesigning food preparation and service spaces, and other school-district led efforts to support school meals and school nutrition professionals.

All Maine students attending a public school are provided free meals, regardless of their family's income.

This was approved by the Maine Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills to start with the 2022-2023 school year. The intent is to help eliminate stigma and help fight hunger in Maine and acknowledges that since some families that weren't traditionally eligible for free or reduced-price school meals may still need help. In enacting the bill, Maine became the second state in the nation to provide free meals to students.

This new USDA funding for RSU 14 will augment that initiative in different ways.

“Offering healthier school meals is key to helping our nation’s kids get the nutrients they need today and for their long-term development,” said Action for Healthy Kids CEO Rob Bisceglie. “Through this historic investment in school nutrition, we will help school districts across the country overcome challenges and develop solutions to provide nutritious foods for the children they serve.”

Stacy Dean, USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Food Nutrition, said that strengthening school meal quality, strengthens children’s health.

“These grants are the largest targeted investment USDA has ever made for school meal programs in small and rural communities,” Dean said. “We want to ensure every child in America has the opportunity to attend a school with high quality, nutritious meals, and this support is a step in that direction.”

Under the direction of Windham/Raymond Schools Director of School Nutrition Jeanne Reilly, RSU 14 received the International Fresh Produce Association Excellence award for innovations such as the National Nutrition Month event in March “Eat Your Way through the Alphabet,” which introduced RSU 14 students and their families to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables and gave them the opportunity to try new flavors and recipes and promote healthy eating. The school district also operated an emergency food pantry through their backpack program during the pandemic for students who were remotely learning from home.

Every day the RSU 14 School Nutrition Program serves more than 2,000 healthy, nutritious meals to students, staff, and visitors at six different schools in Windham and Raymond. All school menus meet USDA requirements for Calories, Fat, Protein, Calcium, Iron, and Vitamins A and D. <

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