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USDA Supports Tribal Communities in Celebrating Their Heritage Through School Meals

Posted by Tony Craddock, Jr., Public Affairs Specialist, USDA Food and Nutrition Service in Equity Food and Nutrition Nutrition Security
Jan 18, 2024
Student in Arizona is eating a Soam Bav Bowl, which has Tepary Beans as a traditional Indigenous ingredient

What kid doesn’t enjoy eating their favorite dish in the school cafeteria? As a kid, I was always excited when broccoli cheese soup was on my school lunch menu! But, what if the foods that kids eat at home and in their community aren’t served in school? This is a challenge that some children face across the country, especially in schools serving students from the Federally Recognized Tribes and/or Native Hawaiians.

Many schools are interested in serving more traditional Indigenous foods but need additional support in making that shift. For instance, it can be hard for schools to find sufficient quantities of some traditional Indigenous foods – such as bison, locally caught salmon, wild rice, and tepary beans – making it hard to serve these foods to all their children. And often, school nutrition staff need additional training and other skills to prepare and serve these culturally rich foods using Indigenous recipes.

These are all challenges that USDA is committed to alleviating through a new grant opportunity Supporting the Use of Traditional Indigenous Foods in the Child Nutrition Programs. Applications opened today and will stay open through March 18, 2024.

USDA will award a total of $2 million in grants to up to four organizations that will provide regionally focused training and technical assistance to school nutrition professionals in school districts serving tribal communities. There are 574 Federally Recognized Tribes and nearly a quarter of Hawaiian residents are Native Hawaiian. Each community has its own rich and diverse culture and food traditions, thus the grants will be awarded in four different regions of the country to maximize the number of communities being served. Lead Applicant entities must be led and primarily staffed by members of the Federally Recognized Tribes and/or Native Hawaiians, and funds may be used to support the use of traditional Indigenous foods in:

  • School breakfast and lunch,
  • Summer meals,
  • Meals and snacks served to children after school, and/or
  • Culturally relevant nutrition education for students.

This grant will also assist schools in the crediting of traditional Indigenous foods, which will ensure they can be utilized as meal components in reimbursable school meals. Last year, USDA provided schools with updated guidance that included an expanded list of traditional Indigenous foods that are approved to be served in school meals.

One of the strongest links to culture is food. This grant will allow children who are members of the Federally Recognized Tribes and/or Native Hawaiian to enjoy the traditional Indigenous foods that connect them to their heritage and history during the school day.

Student at Bellingham High School in Bellingham, WA, tries a newly developed Tortilla Soup recipe