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School Lunch: Lots 2 Love

Posted by Alicia White, MS, RD, Child Nutrition Programs, Food and Nutrition Service in Food and Nutrition
Jul 30, 2021
Participants learning scratch cooking and knife skills at Montana school nutrition training
Participants learn scratch cooking and knife skills at Montana school nutrition training.

While many students were busy enjoying summer vacation, our nation’s hardworking school nutrition professionals were also staying busy, dedicating their time to training and meal planning for the upcoming school year. During National School Lunch Week (October 15-19), USDA recognizes the tireless effort and love that goes into preparing school lunches for 30 million children.

Well before our youngsters headed back to class, this past summer both the Minnesota Department of Education and the Montana Department of Public Instruction made the most of their Team Nutrition Training Grant funding. This is important funding that provides culinary job skills training for their respective school nutrition professionals. The trainings help school managers and cooks prepare healthy meals that use local foods in their menus, while reflecting regional and local food preferences.

At Montana’s Cook Fresh School Nutrition Institute, school nutrition staff learned to incorporate more “from scratch” meals, integrating USDA Foods and locally produced foods. While in the Gopher State, trainings included sessions to prepare Minnesota-grown vegetables, including cabbage, kale and sweet potatoes. Participants also learned to create flavor stations, designed to complement school food offerings. These flavor stations provide an array of low-sodium spices and herbs that students can use to best accommodate their tastes.

Last month, USDA’s Team Nutrition initiative once again underscored their commitment to school meals, releasing a Menu Planner for School Meals, a comprehensive guide highlighting the meal planning flexibilities in the National School Lunch Program. The resource includes 25 spotlights, featuring innovative menu planning techniques in schools across the nation. Often times, the best ideas originate from the local level, and countless recommendations can be found in this free guide.

School lunch is an important part of the school day, supporting kids’ learning, growth, and health. For some children, school meals can provide up to half of the day’s calories. Curious about what foods are included in school lunch? Check out this free MyPlate Guide to School Lunch Infographic (PDF, 688 KB).

USDA’s Team Nutrition initiative provides a number of other free training resources for school nutrition professionals. Explore them all on the Team Nutrition website. And don’t forget to thank your local school nutrition professionals during National School Lunch Week.

Participants preparing food
Minnesota culinary training focuses on locally-grown school food.
Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition

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Laura Lindsey
Oct 16, 2018

More schools are not participating in NSLP due to the high expense. Why is the reimbursement for meals so low? Our low income students are going hungry.

Ben Weaver
Oct 18, 2018

@Laura Lindsey - Thank you for your comment and your concern for feeding hungry children. The National School Lunch Program reimbursement rates are set by law and are adjusted each year based on inflation. Schools in lower income areas (and serve over 60 percent of their meals at the free or reduced rate) receive a slightly higher rate of reimbursement. In addition to the reimbursement provided by the Federal government, some State and local governments provide additional funds to help support the school meals program. Schools also often rely on the sales of other foods in the cafeteria to increase their revenues. For specific information on reimbursement rates, please visit the following link:

Thank you for your question and your interest in the school meal programs.