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Spring 2021 Nutrition Newsletter

Dear Readers,

After a long winter, spring has finally sprung and we have all persevered through an entire year of navigating life amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Springtime is an especially critical time to engage in child nutrition efforts to ensure that when school lets out the more than 700,000 children in Michigan who depend on free and reduced-price school meals continue to receive them. While this is no small feat any year, it is made especially challenging during a global pandemic. The Center for Civil Justice is grateful for the tireless work of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Michigan Department of Education (MDE), school districts, sponsors and food service workers whose continued diligence has helped to make sure children don't go hungry during these trying times.

Our Spring 2021 newsletter focuses on the extension of child nutrition program waivers and highlights the Public Schools of Petoskey, whose participation in the 10 Cents a Meal matching grant program has enabled them to purchase and serve Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables and legumes.

Please help us increase awareness of child hunger and the tools that are available to combat it, by sharing this newsletter and contacting us for assistance in getting your school or organization involved in expanding child nutrition programs in Michigan.

Kelly Bidelman
Executive Director
Help Ensure Access to Healthy Meals During School Closures
 
During unanticipated school closures, schools and program sponsors may utilize the Summer Food Service Program or Seamless Summer Option to serve meals to eligible children. Sponsors that operate the CACFP program may also continue program operations. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced the nationwide extension of several waivers that allow all children to continue to receive nutritious meals this summer when schools are out of session. These flexibilities are now available through Sept. 30, 2021.

These waivers help program operators to prepare for the summer months ahead, when many children don't have access to the school meals they depend on during the academic year. Waivers included: 
  • Allow meals served through the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) – collectively known as “summer meal programs” – to be made available in all areas at no cost;
  • Allow meals to be served outside of the normally required group settings and meal times; and 
  • Allow parents and guardians to pick-up meals for their children, including bulk pick-up to cover multiple days of feeding children.
Advocates and partners can also help spread the word about the availability of meals. Open site locations can be found using MDE's site locator.

In addition to receiving meals through the Child Nutrition Programs, Michigan students may soon be eligible for SNAP benefits through Pandemic-EBT, which provides households an EBT card with the value of the free school breakfast and lunch reimbursement rates for the days that schools are closed. Eligible households include those whose children are certified to receive free or reduced-price school meals and children who attend schools that offer free school meals to all students. You can find more information about P-EBT in Michigan, here.
 

Tips for Expanding Nutrition Programs

Implement the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)CEP season is just around the corner, interested schools must decide to adopt CEP before June 30th! CEP is a powerful tool for high-poverty schools that provides breakfast and lunch to all participating students at no charge. CEP reduces administrative paperwork for schools so they can focus on providing healthy meals that help students learn and thrive! CEP also increases school meal participation by removing stigma and maximizes federal reimbursements. Community eligibility is a win for everyone—administrators, students, families, and school nutrition staff!

Increase Participation in Your School Breakfast Program (SBP)The SBP makes it possible for all school children in Michigan to receive a nutritious breakfast every school day. Yet, many Michigan students are not participating in the School Breakfast Program. Implement best practices to ensure all students have access to a nutritious morning meal, including

Implement the Afterschool Meal ProgramThe Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) provides federal funding to afterschool programs operating in low-income areas to serve meals and snacks to children after school, on weekends and during school holidays. Schools are a natural fit for operating the Afterschool Meal Program since they have experience with the child nutrition programs and often have a ready audience that participates in afterschool programs.

Implement the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP):  During the summer while school is out, many of these children go without adequate nutrition. The federally funded SFSP allows programs to provide free summer meals to children that may otherwise go hungry. Now is the time to begin planning for next summer! Contact CCJ if you would like more information on launching a summer meal program in your community.

Make Changes to Meet (and Exceed) the Break-Even Point: To help ensure your program's long term financial viability, consider following some of these tips, such as changing your program's menu planning techniques, working to require less deliveries, utilizing USDA commodities to the fullest extent, and monitoring inventory daily.

Reduce School Meal Debt: The majority of school districts have unpaid school meal debt. To prevent debt accrual, schools should ensure that students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals are receiving meals at the appropriate rate by making multiple attempts to engage households in applying for school meals. Further, schools that have high percentages of low-income students, should consider serving free meals though the Community Eligibility Provision or Provision 2. Find More strategies to reduce school meal debt, here.

Spotlight on Farm-to-School: Petoskey Public Schools

We had the opportunity to speak with Beth Kavanaugh, the food service director of Petoskey Public Schools, about the district’s participation in the 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan Kids & Farms matching grant program, that makes it easier for districts to purchase farm fresh produce The district first implemented 10 Cents a Meal in 2015.  Beth said that she credits the program with helping the district increase meal participation and to minimize food waste. The students enjoy more common types of produce like berries, plums, pears, carrots, cherry tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, and cucumbers, but many also favor pea pods and purple cauliflower. Beth said that while students may be hesitant to try a new dish, once they do, they often ask for seconds. She admits that farm-to-school success does not happen overnight and emphasizes the importance of monitoring what types of produce the students prefer when trying to increase the amount of produce purchased from local farmers.

With the help of trained volunteers and cafeteria staff, Beth has implemented “Try it Tuesday” and “Cooking with Chef Beth.”   These activities are a hit with students and encourages them to try new recipes while also including them in the menu planning process. “Try it Tuesday” runs in nearly 40 elementary classrooms on the second Tuesday of each month. Students are offered a fruit and a vegetable recipe they may have never tried before, prepared by the food service department. Trained volunteers (kitchen staff, board members, parent volunteers and teachers) receive a script that includes health benefits along with growing and harvesting information about the fruit or vegetable to share with the students. In addition to the script, farm photos are displayed to the students to spark their interest. They especially enjoy the activity when farmers themselves visit the classroom and conduct the “Try it Tuesday” session. Students interact by asking questions and are shown a short video regarding the fruit or vegetable. This adds an additional learning piece to “Try it Tuesday” and allows the students to gain a better understanding of why fresh locally, grown produce is best.

Before sampling the recipe, all students must agree to follow three rules:
 
  1. Don’t Yuck My Yum!
  2. Take a “No Thank You Bite”.
  3. Everyone must try the recipe at the same time.
 
The students then vote if they “loved it, liked it or tried it”. Based on the results, the fresh fruit or vegetable recipe is implemented into the menu. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this program evolved into an at-home experience. Students are sent home with a ‘Harvest of the Month flyer, recipes, and the main fruit or vegetable ingredient so families are able to for families to make and sample items at home. Students love the family time in the kitchen and being able to share the experience with their parents and siblings.

In conjunction with meals served to children during the summer, she also hosts “Cooking with Chef Beth” once a month. This popular program gives children the opportunity to participate in an educational hands-on food experience which involves purchasing items from the Local Farm Market. They follow recipes and make their own meal. They love being able to “play” with food items before they create their meal. Most of the produce comes from local farmers and the children are encouraged to ask the farmers questions and sample fruits and vegetables before they are purchased.

Beth appreciates that the 10 Cents a Meal program allows students to receive the freshest and most nutritionally sound products available and emphasizes the importance that encouraging these healthy eating behaviors will have on students beyond their time in the cafeteria. She also appreciates the continuation of support she receives from farmers, the district, students, parents and food groups like Groundwork Center and the Local Food Alliance of Northern Michigan that allows Petoskey Public Schools to purchase locally grown foods and participate in Farm-to-School.

If your district is interested in participating in the 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms and would like more information, visit tencentsmichigan.org.

The 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids & Farms grant application is open for a second round of grants for the current 2021 funding year (which runs through September 30, 2021.) Grants will be awarded by the Michigan Department of Education until the funds are expended, so the sooner applicants apply the better. Find out more, here.
 
COVID-19 Resources for Schools and Sponsors:

Food Research and Action Center
Nationwide Child Nutrition Waivers 
Ensuring Access to the Child Nutrition Programs In the Event of School Closures

If you have any questions, please contact Jessica Flint, CCJ's health advocate, by email at jflint@ccj-mi.org.
 
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