Free Meals Continue For School Students
By REBECCA HAZEN
The Dade County School District is continuing to offer free breakfast and lunch to its students throughout the rest of the school year thanks to USDA waivers.
According to Director of School Nutrition, Dr. Cleta Long, the waivers were first received in October and have been extended until June 30.
“It has been such a relief for parents, and one less thing that they have to worry about. It is helping their budgets. There are a lot of people who don’t have jobs or have lost their jobs. We provide two meals a day,” Long said.
According to Long, the school’s principals did a great job of figuring out how to handle the different meal times, to ensure less people were being exposed.
There are different eating patterns in the schools. For example, at Dade Elementary they have one class that comes and eats in the cafeteria and another class that comes and eats their lunch in the classroom. At other schools, they stagger eating times, with one class in at a time.
“They are really trying to practice the social distancing and stay safe because we want our kids to stay in school,” Long said.
Long noted that they got a waiver to serve meals at no cost, and a waiver to serve in different places, outside typical settings. They also got a waiver for meal patterns.
“We have meal pattern requirements that we have to serve green leafy vegetables,” Long explained. “To get fresh broccoli from the farm, to the processor, to the distributor, to the grocer, to us, to the end user, that is a long way. Every step of the way, you have opportunities for things not to go right. The meal pattern waivers gave us a little flexibly there. We still want to make sure we were getting healthy food. We were trying to meet the meal patterns as best we could, and also have things the kids will like and will eat.”
Long continued, “Those flexibilities enabled us to put a model together that would meet our communities’ needs.”
There is a meal pick up option on Wednesdays for the virtual learners. There is an order form that goes out to those students.
“We see that we don’t have as many taking advantage of that,” Long said.
The meal pattern for breakfast is four items, and students can select three items. There is the option for a protein, a grain, fruit and juice.
Breakfast is in the classroom at the two elementary schools. Breakfast is served in the cafeteria 30 minutes before school starts at the middle school and high school.
There are five components for the lunch meal including a protein, grain, fruit, vegetable and milk. A student can take all five items.
Students can purchase additional food if they want it, and if the staff has prepared enough.
“We cut back on some of the choices, but our menus aren’t that different,” Long said.
Long continued, “Now we are a little more knowledgeable and we put practices into place. We used to have rows of lettuce and tomato that goes on a hamburger, now we don’t put that many out and space them, so that you’re not touching someone else’s.”
Long hopes to see free school meals at all times in the future. She noted that for a family with four kids, breakfast and lunch five times a week can cost about $12 a day, or about $60 a week.
“There are so many things in school we provide, such as books and transportation, but yet when it comes to meals, we charge for them. It is critical that kids eat during the day. If we don’t feed kids properly and they don’t get the nutrients for their development, then they can’t do their best and be successful as they grow up,” Long said.
“The Dade County Schools System has been providing meals at no cost for our students since March. This has been an added benefit for the families in our community as well as our school system,” Interim Superintendent Josh Ingle said. “The flexibility from USDA has provided some welcomed relief to family budgets and reassurance that students are eligible for free meals that are nutritious, healthy, and support student learning. Furthermore, this added benefit has provided a revenue source for our school community by keeping our wonderful School Nutrition staff employed. Our hope is that parents will encourage students to take advantage of this opportunity for the remainder of the school year by enjoying a free breakfast and lunch daily.”
Breakfast and lunch menus are posted online at dadecountyschools.org. Click on the milk carton logo labeled “School Nutrition,” and then click on “Menus.”