Other Resource

Maine Schools: A School Food Success Story

KSHF_ALACarte_300x300_np_FRE.jpgThe Challenge

Students in Maine School Administrative District No. 52 thought it was uncool to eat school meals. In high school in particular, meals that were nutritious enough to meet the federal government’s reimbursement standards bore the stigma of being for poor kids who couldn’t afford to bring their food or buy the more expensive a la carte options. The result: Few students ate complete, balanced meals with fruits and vegetables, and the school food service program was awash in red ink and losing $100,000 a year.


The district took action. Schools eliminated a la carte entrees and made sure that all meals met federal guidelines for reimbursement. Gone was the two-tiered system that had, in effect, labeled students by family income, replaced with what the district called “value meals” served in an inviting food-court environment. Students could choose from a large selection of healthy entrees, many of which were cooked from scratch in the cafeteria, as well as fruits and vegetables and fat-free or low-fat milk. Breaded, deep-fried chicken patties and whoopie pies were out; homemade chicken teriyaki (with peppers and onions) and fruit and vegetable bars were in. Other menu options included whole-wheat rotini with meat sauce, roast turkey dinner, whole-wheat pizza with low-fat mozzarella and low-sodium tomato sauce, and made-to-order wraps. The schools worked with teachers, parents, and students to garner buy-in for the changes. Now the food service slogan of Leavitt Area High School in Turner, ME, home of the Hornets, is “Value meals take the sting out of lunch prices.” At Tripp Middle School, which has a tiger for a mascot, the slogan is “Value meals take the bite out of lunch prices.”

Measures of Success

At A Glance

 Maine School Administrative District No. 52

Location: Greene, Leeds, and Turner, ME

Number of Schools: 6

Enrollment: 2,000

Free and reduced-price meals: 39 percent

The percentage of high school students who returned the forms qualifying them for free and reduced-price lunches skyrocketed, pushing eligibility from 9 percent in 2003-04 to nearly 37 percent today. By removing the stigma and improving the meals, participation soared. “We broke down all those barriers,” says food service director David Roberts.

Rather than running at a deficit, the food service program now breaks even, feeding an average of 1,387 students a day, nearly 70 percent of the district’s enrollment. It was also the first district in Maine to win the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s award for healthy meals. All four elementary schools have won recognition and the middle school is expected to do so in short order.

Lessons Learned

Roberts recommends taking risks and trying new things. “Keep in mind that part of our mission is not just to feed these kids but to educate them on how to eat properly,” he says. “And that takes time.”

Roberts adds that, although efforts must be made to sell the program to parents and students, it is more important to provide healthy food that tastes good. No amount of public relations will get kids to eat food that they don’t like.

Read more "School Food Success Stories" from school districts across the nation.

Date added:
Nov 12, 2013

Related Resources

Pew Commends Senators Collins and Heitkamp for Supporting Healthy School Foods

Other Resource
Jessica Donze Black, an expert with The Pew Charitable Trust’s initiative on child nutrition, issued the following statement on the School Food Modernization Act. More

States Need Updated School Kitchen Equipment

Other Resource
Eighty-six percent of schools in the United States are serving healthy lunches, but many could do so more effectively with updated equipment and infrastructure. Without the right tools, districts rely on workarounds that are expensive, inefficient, and unsustainable. Investing in kitchens and cafeterias could help schools better serve the nutritious foods and beverages that students need. More

National Nutrition Month Facts

Other Resource

March is National Nutrition Month, a time to focus new energy on giving kids healthy food options throughout the school day. Students consume up to half of their daily calories in school, so access to wholesome meals and snacks is important to their overall health. In fact, research shows that students living in states with strong nutrition laws gain less weight than those in states without such policies.


Education Week: Grants to Rehab School Kitchens Included in Obama's Budget Proposal

Media Coverage
About 88 percent of 3,459 food-service directors recently surveyed by Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said they needed additional equipment to adequately prepare meals. More

Bloomberg: Researchers On Free & Reduced Lunch, The Opportunity Gap

Media Coverage
Jessica Donze Black, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project, joins host Jane Stoddard Williams to discuss the National School Lunch Program that provides low-cost or free lunches to children. More

Civil Eats: State of the Tray: Will Recent Improvements in School Food be Rolled Back?

Media Coverage

Jessica Donze Black, director for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project, calls the modification change a “pragmatic and scientifically sound decision,” and San Francisco-based school food reformer Dana Woldow agrees: “[The calorie caps] will automatically limit the amount of potentially fatty protein and grains going into the meals. I think the days of seeing giant cheeseburgers the size of your head in school cafeterias may be over.”


NEAToday: Aging School Kitchens Undermine Healthy Meal Preparation

Media Coverage

It was food delivery day at Glen Landing Middle School in Blackwood, New Jersey, and the 42-year-old walk-in freezer went kaput. Again.


The State of School Nutrition

Other Resource
Kids consume up to 50 percent of their daily calories at school, so access to healthy meals and snacks is important to their overall health. This is especially true for the 21.5 million students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals and rely on food served in school to meet their nutritional needs. More

Serving Healthier Meals: California Schools Need Updated Kitchen Equipment

Other Resource
The majority of public schools in California are serving meals that meet updated, healthier nutrition standards. To do so, half of the state’s districts are cooking more meals from scratch. Scratch cooking can be challenging for schools—particularly those in older buildings—without the right kitchen tools for efficient preparation of healthy foods. More

Serving Healthy School Meals: Kitchen Tools Matter

How do you store extra servings of fruits and vegetables so schools can serve students the healthy foods they need to learn? Two school food service experts outline the importance of school kitchen equipment so that personnel have the right tool for the right job. More

Serving Healthy School Meals: Presentation Matters

Kids eat with their eyes, just like adults. Two school food service experts explain why presentation and equipment play important roles in getting kids to eat healthy foods. More

Serving Healthy School Meals: Kitchen Equipment

This is the second in a series of reports that summarizes how schools are putting in place updated U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, meal standards and the challenges they must overcome to reach full implementation.


What Does a School Kitchen Need?

Data Visualization
Schools across the country are serving healthy meals, but many could do so more effectively with updated equipment and
infrastructure. More

Serving Healthy School Meals: Kitchen Equipment

Other Resource

Schools would be better able to serve healthy, appealing meals if investments were made in new kitchen equipment and infrastructure.


Report Finds That School Kitchens Need Significant Upgrades

Press Release

Only 1 in 10 school districts nationwide (12 percent) has all the kitchen equipment needed to serve healthy foods, according to a new report issued by the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project. The report makes recommendations for how schools, policymakers, industry, and philanthropic partners can work together to make these investments and provide healthy, appealing foods more efficiently. It is the first national assessment of districts’ kitchen equipment and infrastructure needs.