Jeanne, Dayle and HOPE after a year of COVID-19!

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This blog post is going to be a bit more personal than recent interviews with school nutrition professionals that I have been sharing. It is about hope after social isolation, friendship that thrives in a pandemic, and the heroic efforts of school nutrition heroes in Maine, Montana and every other state. Jeanne Reilly wrote the original post on TIPS for School Meals That Rock and created the fabulous School Nutrition Hero graphic. I have edited the following text for clarity only.

Friends in Maine

Our Thought for today is HOPE. This past week, we had the pleasure of being together for an in-person visit. Hanging with a friend, hiking around southern Maine, enjoying spring weather , chatting endlessly, and contemplating a new school year with a new round of waivers – everything felt hopeful and we were both refreshed by our visit! 

For Dayle a visit to Windham-Raymond School Nutrition Program and the Mobile Meals van was her first on-site school visit since before the pandemic began. Things were certainly different: We were masked and serving meals out of a van, as well as in our cafeteria and classrooms but the simple act of returning to previously “normal” activities felt good and HOPEful. 

Windham-Raymond School Nutrition Program, Mobile Meals Van

For Jeanne, it felt good to have someone to strategize with about next year, to dig into the newest round of waivers, and someone to laugh and whine and obsess about ALL of it! Nothing like a little lobster, accompanied by a healthy dose of lighthouses, fresh Maine air, hikes and bald eagle sightings to give life and a fresh perspective full of HOPE and anticipation! 

As we look forward to next year, we have HOPE that all, or almost all students will be back to learning in person; HOPE that #HealthySchoolMealsforAll will continue to be available at no cost to students next year and beyond. We certainly know that it will be a long time before things feel 100% normal, but we have HOPE that we are on the road back. 

YOU are our HEROES!

As you know School Lunch Hero Day is next Friday, May 7, 2021. We have set a small goal of getting our TIPS for School Meals That Rock membership up to 17,000 by next Friday! Can you invite some of your friends who are not currently TIPS members? If every school nutrition hero invites one of their “essential” friends, we could meet and exceed 17,000 members in no time at all! There is strength in numbers – and the more members we have the better we can collaborate, share and inspire. We look forward to ALL your posts about your celebrations!

School Food on the Frontlines: It’s been a COVID year for Jeanne!

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Jeanne Reilly has been the Director of School Nutrition in RSU #14, Windham-Raymond, Maine, for 12 years. Her rural district serves 3300 students. Prior to March 2020, the district’s free/reduced percentage was 34 percent.

What was the biggest challenge that you had to overcome in the past year? Jeanne’s personal and professional challenges have been intertwined. On a personal level her challenge has been exhaustion, making it hard to find a positive attitude every morning. Professionally she needed to keep her staff positive, engaged and connected to each other. She needed to keep them focused on the “Maine” goal – their core mission to feed the district’s students – while maintaining staff levels. Motivation was critical but also challenging with constant changes in learning plans, USDA waivers and personal safety recommendations. If you are reading this, you probably know these struggles all too well.

Bulk meals during COVID-19

What achievement are you the proudest of during COVID-19? Through a seemingly endless round of pivots, Windham Raymond School Nutrition Program staff have stayed flexible, open-minded and innovative. They currently serve meals in four ways (cafeteria, other areas of schools, curbside and delivery) and have maintained 75 percent of pre-pandemic participation with only 40-50 percent of students in school at any point. Jeanne is rightly proud of her team’s achievements which she attributes in large part of years’ of trainings (customer service, culinary, HHFKA regulations, etc.) and team building. Her leadership goal has been to enable her team to grasp an idea quickly – and to run with it.

RSU Superintendent observes Mobile Meals (top) and Chef provides contact free delivery

Support from the district and the communities served by RSU #14 has been vital to maintaining participation and positive perception of the program. Jeanne is proud that the program was able to build their already-strong communication channels to let their customers know that (1) we are here to provide nutritious, safe food for your families and (2) we will keep you updated on inevitable changes asap. Their strong social media presence and regular Eblasts helped to market emergency meals and to provide ongoing education about nutrition, food safety and other critical issues.

What innovation(s) have you made that you will continue using in the future? “In order to meet social distancing guidelines, we have been serving meals to students throughout our buildings – classrooms, hallways and access points. This has been very successful and we plan to maintain it in the future.” Jeanne notes that they have been able to demonstrate to teachers and administration that feeding students is essential and that serving in a variety of locations can be efficient, effective and safe.

Grab & Go Breakfast Kiosks (L) and Concession Stand becomes serving station (R)

Winning Pasta Pics for School Lunch: #BarillaPastaDayGiveaway (Sponsor: Barilla Pasta)

School Meals That Rock is proud to partner with Barilla K-12 Pasta to promote whole grain pasta in school meals. Why? It’s quite simple: I serve Barilla products at home and I believe that they are a deliciously wholesome way for school meal programs to meet the USDA National School Lunch Program requirements for whole grains.

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So what is the #BarillaPastaDayGiveaway? It’s as simple as serving tasty pasta meals in your program. All you have to do is enroll in the program online and then submit a photo from your school nutrition program. It can be a photo of a school lunch tray with a pasta entrée or side salad; it can also be a salad bar or serving line with featuring a pasta dish; it can be a photo from your school kitchen where cooks are preparing your students favorite pasta menu item. Joelle Bradley enrolled and submitted this gorgeous tray of Barilla Whole Grain Rotini with beef sauce that she said is always a hit with the students at Redwood Elementary, Fort Bragg, California!

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Joelle Bradley is now entered to win $500 in the November monthly contest – and she is also entered to win the #BarillaPastaDayGiveaway Grand Prize: A one-day visit by Barilla Consulting Chef Bruno Wehren, for a comprehensive staff training on cooking whole grain pasta. Jeanne Reilly, NDTR, SNS, school nutrition director in Windham-Raymond RSU 314, Maine, was the September winner with the Cheesy Baked Ziti in the bottom left below. The other photos illustrate all the delicious ways that Windham-Raymond School Nutrition Program menus pasta to their students. They put Barilla Pasta on the menu frequently because #KidsLovePasta, it is what they eat at home, and parents approve of whole grain pasta dishes for school lunch.

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Need ideas for menuing Barilla pasta in your program? Barilla Foodservice Recipes offer endless possibilities for smart menu creations. This updated Turkey Tetrazzini with Penne Pasta is perfect for the holiday season. It’s also perfect for your school food budget since it features three USDA Foods (Turkey Roast, IQF Mushrooms and Lite Mozzarella Cheese). Give students a familiar choice and give your program a boost in participation. For more information on Barilla, call 1.866.349.4386, and visit barillafs.com for recipe inspiration.

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School Breakfast Helps Students Make the Grade in 2015

By Dayle Hayes, MS, RD

While the buzz about National School Breakfast Week, is now behind us, the reasons to expand morning meals at school sit in America’s classrooms every day. Many children are still coming to school too hungry to focus on their teachers and too hungry to learn. In the 2015 Hunger in Our Schools Report from No Kid Hungry, 3 out of 4 public school teachers say that students regularly come to school hungry and 81% say this happens at least once a week. Educators report that hunger results in an inability to concentrate (88%); lack of energy or motivation (87%); poor academic performance (84%); and tiredness (82%).

Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC). McMinnville, Oregon

Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC). McMinnville, Oregon

Fortunately there are solutions. USDA’s School Breakfast Program, which is growing across the country, is the front line in helping all students be well-nourished and ready to learn. Every year the FRAC School Breakfast Scorecard lists participation rates for every state and the District of Columbia. On the plus side, the 2015 report (data from school year 2013-14) shows steady increases since 2003, with a total of 320,000 more low-income students eating a school breakfast each day compared to the prior year.

Sadly, significant school breakfast gaps still exist for low-income children in many states. This is a serious problem because breakfast improves students’ nutrition, health and their ability to focus and pay attention in class. Hungry children cannot listen to their teachers – because they are listening to their stomachs. The just-released Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reinforces the importance of breakfast for young people noting that “[B]reakfast eating is associated with more favorable nutrient intakes compared to nutrient intakes from other meals or snacks. Adolescents and young adults are the least likely to eat breakfast, and targeted promotion efforts are needed to reach these groups. For children and adolescents, the school breakfast program is an important venue for promoting breakfast consumption and efforts are needed to increase student participation rates.”

As a mom and a child nutrition expert, my mantra is simple. Breakfast. Every Child. Every Day. Research clearly shows that breakfast helps everyone be ready to succeed – and you probably make certain that your family enjoys these benefits every morning. I believe we all must go beyond our own families and support breakfast in every school – even if our kids eat at home. Here’s what you can do to help:

While your child may be able to opt out of a school breakfast program, their friends and classmates may not have that luxury for a myriad of reasons. Breakfast is a simple, cost-effective way for high-performing schools to help every child be well nourished and ready to learn. That’s a strategy that I support as a mom, a Registered Dietitian (RD) and a taxpayer.

Apple-Maple French Toast, Windham-Raymond RSU #14, Maine

Maple Apple French Toast, Windham-Raymond RSU #14, Maine. Recipe from Vermont FEED, New School Cuisine Cookbook (http://www.vtfeed.org/materials/new-school-cuisine-cookbook)

This blog post originally appeared on the Midwest Dairy Makes Sense blog as School Breakfast Makes the Grade.