Windham Raymond Schools, in Windham, Maine has recently been recognized by the USDA’s Team Nutrition for their school meals. Team Nutrition is an initiative of the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) Food and Nutrition Service to support the child nutrition programs through training, education, and support for healthy eating and physical activity.
Currently, Team Nutrition is working on a project to showcase nutritious and delicious meals at schools across the country, and Windham Raymond Schools has been recognized as having a menu that fits these criteria. The menu to be recognized, which included turkey feast panini with roasted edamame salad and baked potato wedges, will be photographed and used as part of National School Lunch Week communications, activities, and potentially in Team Nutrition publications and trainings, as well.
Director of School Nutrition at Windham Raymond Schools, Jeanne Reilly, says it is an honor to be recognized. “Our School Nutrition Professionals have worked very hard at developing their culinary skills and learning creative ways to create healthy, delicious, & crave-able meals for the students in RSU 14. We love that this hard work and dedication is being recognized, and we also hope that our work will inspire other districts across the country,” she said.
Getting to this point wasn’t a fast process, though. A lot of training, adjusting, and student taste testing went into creating these nutritious school menus on top of good kitchen equipment and empowered school staff. Recipes were developed and menu items were changed one at a time throughout the process, and once student acceptance was gained, it was time to move on to the next menu item.
“We didn’t change everything at once, but we changed gradually, taking small but important steps, until amazingly, we realized how far we had come. When, throughout the years, there has been talk about ‘rolling back the guidelines,’ such as not requiring whole grains, or dropping the fruit & vegetable requirements, our staff have been unwavering in their commitment to pressing forward, stating ‘why turn back now?’” Reilly said.
At this point, there is widespread acceptance and trust in the district amongst students, faculty, and parents alike. Reilly believes the pandemic may have actually helped with this, saying, “I believe that one of the silver linings of the pandemic is that families picked up school meals to be consumed in their household, and it gave parents the opportunity to see how delicious and nutritious school meals are, how much they have changed over the years, and the healthy array of fruits and vegetables that are provided with every school meal.” Students love the way the meals taste, and parents love how nutritious they are. The meals are so popular, the district even provides family sized recipes of some of the favorite meals so families can eat the meals at home, too.
One parent and part time teacher believes “that free, available, and healthy food at school has leveled the playing field for ALL students…Children do not have to worry about if their parents have put money into their account or how low the negative balance is, and they feel cared for.” From a parent’s perspective, she says, it has been a huge stress relief to know that her children will be served a nutritious lunch at school. Not having to worry about preparing her children’s lunches in the mornings before school relieves chaos and makes for a more positive day.
Please join us in congratulating Windham Raymond Schools on this recognition of their dedication to healthy meals!