MEDIA RELEASE: Maine DOE Child Nutrition Kicks off Virtual Farm to School Cook-off

The Maine Department of Education is following in the footsteps of many schools and going with a hybrid model for this year’s 2021 Farm to School Cook Off.

Celebrating its 6th annual competition, the Maine Farm to School Cook-off is a statewide culinary competition for teams of school nutrition professionals and students to promote local foods in school meals. The 6th annual competition is organized by the Maine Department of Education, Child Nutrition team.

On March 22nd the Maine Department of Education (DOE) Child Nutrition team is kicking off the virtual competition. Four teams are participating in the competition this year including, RSU 12, RSU 14, RSU 54 and South Portland. Voting will take place starting today, March 22nd through April 2nd for school staff, family and friends to vote for their favorite cook-off team!

Each team was tasked to create a breakfast and lunch video, while following recipe guidelines of the competition. This criteria includes producing meals that meet the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) meal pattern and include at least three local ingredients and one USDA food. Within the videos, teams were asked to provide details on local ingredients, USDA foods that were used, techniques used, feasibility, and anything else the team would like to share.

This virtual cook-off is the first step on each team’s journey to becoming the “2021 Farm to School Cook-off Champion”. The top two finalists from the virtual competition will advance to the Farm to School Cook-off Finals Competition on May 5, 2021 in the Child Nutrition Culinary Classroom in Augusta, ME! Please note all necessary precautions will be taken, including face coverings and social distancing of teams in the culinary classroom. 

To vote for your favorite cook-off team please visit: https://www.maine.gov/doe/schools/nutrition/programs/localfoods/cookoffvoting

Finalists will be announced on April 5, 2021.
For more information on Maine’s Farm and Sea to School program, visit https://www.maine.gov/doe/farmtoschool

MEDIA RELEASE: USDA Extends Flexibilities to Provide FREE Meals to Children Through Summer Months

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released a continuation of needed flexibilities for the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) through Summer 2021.

“We are so grateful for the USDA waiver extensions through this incredibly difficult time,” said Walter Beesley, Maine Department of Education’s Director of Child Nutrition. “The newest extension will allow Maine schools to continue to provide complimentary emergency meals in creative ways at school, remotely, and on weekends to children of all ages through the summer months.”

In the USDA announcement, they express the following:

As we complete a full year of Child Nutrition Program operations during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we want to acknowledge the creativity, dedication, and tireless efforts of program operators and administrators at all levels to ensure access to healthy meals during what has been, for many of us, one of the most challenging years of our lifetimes. Over the past year, the Child Nutrition Program community has overcome a myriad of obstacles and has continued to provide daily meals for millions of our nation’s children and vulnerable adults. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) extends a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has dedicated time and energy in service to their communities through the Child Nutrition Programs over this past year.

In response to the needs of program operators and State administrators, FNS has released a series of waivers to maximize flexibility and limit exposure to COVID-19, while maintaining accountability. The waivers are currently scheduled to expire on June 30, 2021, the statutory end of the school year. These flexibilities will remain necessary to operate our programs this summer given the ongoing public health and economic crisis. Understanding that program operators are now planning how to best deploy child nutrition programs during the upcoming summer months, FNS is issuing the following updated waivers specifically for summer meal program operations in 2021. Please note that the current waivers are in effect through June 30, 2021 and that the waivers listed below are effective beginning July 1, 2021:

  • #74 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Meal Pattern Flexibilities for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #75 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Non-Congregate Feeding for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #76 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Parents and Guardians to Pick Up Meals for Children for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #77 Nationwide Waiver to Extend Area Eligibility Waivers for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #78 Nationwide Waiver of Meal Service Time Restrictions for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #79 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Offer Versus Serve Flexibilities in the Summer Food Service Program for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #80 Nationwide Waiver to Allow Area Eligibility for Closed Enrolled Sites for Summer 2021 Operations
  • #81 Nationwide Waiver to Waive First Week Site Visits in the Summer Food Service Program for Summer 2021 Operations
“Statewide we have seen a down-tick in families accepting the meals that are available at no cost to them. This has prompted schools to adapt their menus, delivery options, and advertising methods to encourage families to take advantage of this valuable service, especially during these tough times,” added Beesley. “We are hopeful that now that we know the flexibilities and funding will continue through the summer, more families will take advantage of the really great, complimentary food options from school.”

Maine Department of Education Child Nutrition staff stand ready to support Maine Child Nutrition Providers in their continued efforts to supply safe, nutritious meals to Maine’s children and adolescents through Summer 2021.

Maine DOE staff are available to answer questions and provide important training and technical assistance to the field. For questions and information please contact Adriane Ackroyd at Adriane.ackroyd@maine.gov / 207-592-1722.

Tips and Information for Districts Offering Complimentary Meals 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the way schools and districts have been offering meals to children across the state has changed dramatically. Food service staff have worked tirelessly to adapt and come up with many creative methods for meal service by schools.

The complimentary meals, free of charge to all families, are being offered as part of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) emergency meal program – a response to the pandemic.  The emergency meal program ensures compliance with the required law of offering meals on educational days. It is not part of the federal School Lunch Program, but a special program which offers meals to all children during this time of challenge.

Given the underutilization of this program by students and families across Maine, the Department is offering some tips that school/district nutrition teams can use to help increase participation by maximizing nutrition and appeal to students, adding flexibly for families, and by increasing promotion and communication:

  • Children’s preferences and favorites should be considered when planning menus.
  • Meals offered should be nutritious and appealing.
  • Flexible delivery methods are needed to accommodate working parents.
  • Volunteers from the community can be sourced to supplement food service staff.
  • Advertise as “complementary meals” or “emergency meals” (not as “School Lunch”).
  • Maximize communication by using your district’s social media and online platforms. Include photos of menus and featured ingredients.
  • Include delivery site information and picture of location (or a picture of the delivery vehicle).
  • Always reiterate that the meals are free for everyone!

If you need more information, support, and/or training, contact Maine DOE Child Nutrition Office at 207-624-6842.

REMINDER: USDA Food Orders Due on February 22nd

School Food Service Departments across the state are busy entering the orders for USDA food for School Year 2022.  It is hard to believe we are in the process of ordering food for next school year! This is a friendly reminder that the USDA food orders are due by noon on February 22nd.

Directions to place food orders in the new CNPweb system are posted on our web page here: https://www.maine.gov/doe/schools/nutrition/programs/fd. Once orders are placed, the Department will submit them to USDA for the bidding/purchasing process for Maine.

Thank you and great job to those that have completed the USDA food ordering process already.

If you have any questions or need support in this process, contact Maine DOE Child Nutrition at 207-624-6822.

Maine DOE Child Nutrition Team Announces Initial Transition to New Software Program to Streamline Claiming, Ordering, Applications, and Review

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) Child Nutrition Team is excited to announce that a new software program called CNPWeb will launch this week and begin to replace NEO for all School Nutrition functions. CNPWeb will streamline the claiming, ordering, annual application and review process for all of the Child Nutrition programs: School Nutrition, Food Distribution, Summer Food Service and Child & Adult Care Food Program.

The new CNPWeb software will transition over, starting with the Food Distribution Program (FDP), also known as USDA Food on 2/4/2021.

  • All districts will need to submit a FDP application for approval and locations of delivery in CNPWeb.  A webinar will be offered Tuesday, February 9th at 9:30am (register here) – This webinar will be recorded and available on Child Nutrition Training Webpage.  Additional material and resources will be on the CNPWeb web page and in our weekly Child Nurtition listserv updates.  This is in preparation for completing the annual USDA Foods order opening February 12, 2021. Applications must be in and approved to get a fair share of the USDA Food money before February 12th.  All orders must be placed for SY22 food by February 22, 2021 to meet the USDA purchase deadline.

The remaining Child Nutrition programs are anticipated to transition to the new CNPWeb system during the spring of SY22.

Please make sure your School Department’s Food Service Director is aware of this message.  It is important to meet the deadline for the federal food service programs so that all schools to get their fair share of money. More information can be found on the Maine CNPWeb web page https://www.maine.gov/doe/schools/nutrition/programs/fd or by contacting the Maine DOE Child Nutrition Office.