Good Nutrition All Day Long
In the February 2013 issue of School Nutrition, author Cecily Walters examined summer feeding programs that provide breakfast, lunch and snack—or a combination thereof—to kids during the long break from school. The article includes advice from school nutrition operators who offer summer meals programs. The following are additional reflections from Marilyn Moody, SNS, senior director of child nutrition services for the Wake County (N.C.) Public School System.
The Wake County (N.C.) Public School System school nutrition team serves an impressive number of summer meals, likely helped by the sheer length of time it has been offering the Summer Food Service Program: “For more years than existing staff can remember,” says Moody. Her team uses its website to promote the program to the community, but over time has found that word-of-mouth has proven to be the most effective way to spread the word about summer meals. In addition to daily participation increases, her department is vending meals to more summer sponsors than ever before—a number that has more than doubled in the past five years. “We promoted our program through a Department of Health and Human Services panel three years ago, and this opened the door to many summer camp sponsors,” Moody explains.
Wake County’s summer foodservice sites are all closed and they include camps, parks and recreation programs, Boys and Girls Clubs and churches, in addition to summer school programs. At the summer school sites, students receive traditional offer vs. serve menu options, while the team pre-plates and bags meals for the program’s satellite sites. Wake County serves pizza, hot dogs, cheese dippers, chicken sandwiches and tacos for hot items, while cold items include chef salads, yogurt parfaits and deli sandwiches. A chef salad with chicken bites and nachos with queso sauce have been particular hits with kids, who also enjoy farm-to-school-sourced fresh fruit, especially summertime peaches.
As longstanding veterans in serving summer meals, Moody and her team acknowledge that experience makes a number of aspects of managing the program easier than others. For example, “Over time, it’s become easier for us to manage hot food, by limiting the number of [those] meals that we deliver,” says Moody. “We packaged more foods last summer to reduce damage to food during transportation.” Another lesson learned: Train site staff at one central location, instead of individually at each site.
Moody doesn’t pull punches about the headaches that can accompany program administration. For example, she says that despite changes by USDA to improve the site sponsor application process, it “remains cumbersome, lengthy and difficult.” In addition, despite the training she conducts, “It is still hard to get site staff to follow the regulations in place, and monitoring is difficult for programs that operate for a very short time period,” she notes.
In addition to providing nutritious meals to students who might otherwise experience hunger during the summer, Moody is proud that her operation’s summer feeding efforts can provide summer employment for her staff. It may only be two months’ extra pay, but it helps many of them get by.