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.