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USDA Training Benefits Child Nutrition Program, Increases Access to Healthy Meals

In the Team Up for School Nutrition Success Initiative, Thomas J. Smith learned about best practices to ensure his schools' most needy students get healthy meals.

Ed. note: This is cross-posted on the USDA's blog. See the original post here.

The primary mission of The Child Nutrition Program, at the Archdiocese of New York-Department of Education, is to ensure that healthy and nutritious meals are provided to our most needy students. Over 20,000 meals are served on a daily basis. Meals are served to our recipient agency schools throughout the Archdiocese of New York. As a result, we serve over 4-million meals between breakfast, lunch, afterschool snack and fresh fruits and vegetables each year.

Upon assuming the director’s position in February 2015, I visited a number of our schools. I met with students and administrators and gained considerable insight into the machinations of the food programs. Among the many conversations I had with students, it was overwhelmingly rewarding when they expressed genuine gratitude for the meals we are able to provide. The aforementioned, along with New York State and USDA sponsored courses have assisted me in the performance of my duties, such as recently participating in USDA’s Team Up for School Nutrition Success.

In September 2014, we piloted Breakfast in the Classroom (BIC), in six schools, an additional two schools in May 2015 and eight schools by September 2015. Thanks to BIC, as reported by administrators, students are more focused and grades have improved. Furthermore, absenteeism and tardiness decreased significantly.

Team Up for Nutrition Success was tailored to address the major concerns of directors in the areas of menu planning, financial management and increasing participation. Individual group discussions were helpful in identifying problems within our meal distribution system. As a result, Team Up for School Nutrition Success outlined goals and strategies on how to use the resources available to continue implementing BIC in 38 schools by December 2016.  The sharing of our individual experiences will serve me well in my role as a major city director. Again, the insight gained from Team Up for School Nutrition Success will help stabilize our finances and help guide us into the future.

Team Up for School Nutrition Success also instructed us in ways to disseminate the positive goals of our programs to the communities we serve. For example, our wellness program will be staffed by administrators, parents and students. Input from these sources will help in the planning and success of our programs. In addition, we have a monthly scheduled newsletter going out to our schools.

The USDA has provided meals and nutritional education to our students. These healthy meals and nutritional education will fight obesity and provide a template for a healthy lifestyle. The task of educating our students is made easier by serving our students meals throughout the day. We look forward to our continued partnership with the New York State Education Department and the USDA in providing meal service to our students. Furthermore, the support we receive from the USDA allows our program to yield benefits to our students, only reinforcing our mission and commitment to those we serve.

Thomas J. Smith is the Director of Child Nutrition for the Archdiocese of New York – Department of Education.