Newfield Food Service Director in Tomato Costume to celebrate the September Harvest of the Month.
Image by Chloe Boutelle

National School Lunch Week

Farm to School Honors our Partners During National School Lunch Week, Oct 11-15, 2021.

This week is National School Lunch Week. It's a time to thank the hard working food service staff at our schools for serving thousands of kids every school day. Our thanks need to be doubled this year as employees continue to go above and beyond during this time of disruption and constant adaptation. Since last March, meals have been packed up and sent home on buses or brought to classrooms at a moment’s notice to accommodate social distancing, school closings, erratic attendance, and rapidly increasing food insecurity among area families.

While experiencing this gratitude, this week is also a time to reflect on our personal and community values around the food that we offer kids and the resources that we allocate towards their care. Our food service teams meet extremely rigorous standards to ensure that balanced nutrients are included in every meal. They do so on an extremely limited budget, in hot kitchens and loud cafeterias, during shifts that start early and require a quick pace. Is there any more that we can do to support their efforts? Is there more we can do to support the quality of the food they can afford to purchase for their menus?

At Farm to School, we support many of the county’s school districts by connecting them with great food grown locally. This fall, schools have committed to purchasing over $6,000 of local produce through our partnerships. In September and October, they served local peaches, plums, nectarines, watermelon, grapes, tomatoes, cucumbers, butternut squash, sweet corn and rainbow colored peppers. In November and December they will serve local broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, and apples. Food Service Directors also dedicate some of their time and creative energy to the task of increasing those purchases and increasing the quality and diversity of kids’ lunches in Tompkins.

We are excited to announce that for the next two years, we will be adding more educational opportunities alongside these menu items, through a generous grant from the Park Foundation. With their support, our staff will train and schedule enthusiastic young adults to host taste tests in cafeterias, hands-on education in school gardens, and culinary experiences in classrooms that reinforce plant science, nutrition, and the cultural history of food while touching, smelling, and tasting whole foods. These efforts will increase acceptance of new menu items, building an appreciation for good food that children will carry throughout their lives.

Thanks to pandemic waivers, school meals are free for all students this school year, so it’s a great time to give school lunch a try. School lunches offer students fruits and vegetables, whole grains and milk, and meet federal nutrition standards limiting fat, calories and sodium. Participating in school food is the easiest way for your family to support these programs. With more participation, schools receive more funding, which can then be put to use improving program quality. On the other hand, when children bring lunch from home, it reduces programmatic reach and therefore, the urgency to allocate resources. Smaller program budgets particularly affect families who rely on school lunch programs to ensure adequate nutrition for their children.

As of last week, many of our school food service departments were operating without enough staff. This meant that Directors were washing dishes and running registers when they needed to attend to orders and menu planning for future weeks. Do you or someone you know like to cook? Consider becoming a substitute food service worker for your local district. It can mean the difference between kids getting excellent service from adults that feel respected and ready to serve lunch with a smile or short-staffed teams needing to cut time-intensive fresh items from the menu to get through their busy day.

If working in the kitchen doesn’t suit you, how about becoming a volunteer? Get in touch with your local school administration to see if they need helpers to move kids through the line, wipe down tables in between seatings, or bring lunch trays to classrooms. Or complete our Farm to School volunteer form at www.ccetompkins.org/farm-to-school to help deliver fresh items, assist in learning opportunities, or complete simple administrative support.

Good food enables better energy and attention and facilitates learning outcomes, social interactions, emotional control and mental health. It builds a foundation for healthy kids and adults alongside exercise, fresh air, good sleep, water, love and attention. As a community, we can work together to ensure this generation has the good food it needs to thrive now and in the future.

Last updated October 21, 2021