Students spend about seven hours a day at school, but concentration and understanding don’t come easy if they’re hungry.
District meal programs make sure pupils are ready to learn, both during the school year and over summer break.
“We look at the food as a component for helping kids learn. It’s an essential ingredient,” said Cleta Long, nutrition director for the Bibb County school district. “Our job is to feed the kids and make sure they are nourished the best we can.”
Some children don’t get a good dinner at home due to limited time or resources, so it’s important that they are well fed while at school, she said.
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“Supporting families by providing meals to children while they are at school helps fuel their bodies and minds to learn and achieve their fullest potential,” said Meredith Potter, Houston’s director of school nutrition.
Schools are emphasizing healthy eating and ingredients these days. For instance, many schools in Houston and Bibb counties have their own gardens, and several participate in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program, which provides education and healthy afternoon snacks to students.
Bibb’s Central Kitchen does scratch cooking for the whole district and then sends ingredients to the schools for the staff to assemble, Long said. It focuses on clean cooking and fresh foods with no preservatives. Staff members incorporate lots of protein, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables into the meals.
Breakfast and lunch
The Bibb school system is under the federal Community Eligibility Program, so every student is able to get breakfast and lunch at no charge. The district serves about 11,000 breakfasts and 20,000 lunches a day.
The entire Peach County district also falls under the program, said Peach Child Nutrition Director Matoshia Grant.
With an $82,000 Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant, the Bibb district was able to institute the “five and go” program at several middle and high schools, Long said. It allows students to grab nutrient-rich smoothies a few minutes before class.
In Houston County, 16 schools offer free breakfast, lunch and after-school snacks to all students through the community program, and students can apply to receive free or reduced-price meals at the others, Potter said. The district was able to implement alternative breakfast services through a two-year Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom grant, which is now finished.
Similarly, Bleckley County Middle and High schools offer free and reduced-price meals for students who qualify, and the remaining four schools are under the CEP program, said Kelli Green, Bleckley County’s school nutrition director. All these schools provide free snacks to students participating in after-school activities during the week, as do Peach and Bibb County schools.
Jones County operates under free and reduced-price guidelines and participates in several federal nutrition programs for lunch, breakfast and after-school snacks, said Roslyn Foster, the county’s nutrition program director.
Monroe County also uses the free and reduced-price model, and its elementary school students can get free after-school snacks, said Lisa Singley, the system’s director of school nutrition.
During the summer, students 18 and younger can still get free breakfast, lunch or snacks during the week. Schools, churches, apartment complexes, camps, recreation departments and athletic practices are just a few of the sites that host meals for children.
“Research has shown that when a child is properly nourished during the summer, they retain what they’ve learned during the year,” Long said.
This year, the Bibb County program runs June 5 to July 14, Houston County is from May 30 to July 28, Peach County is June 1-30, and Bleckley County is May 30 to July 20. Monroe County will serve breakfast and lunch at the Banks Stephens campus of Monroe County Middle on June 5-9 and June 12-16.
Other meal sites will be announced by districts soon and listed on their websites, and students do not need to register to receive assistance.
The Bibb and Houston districts are looking for additional locations to host meals, and the deadline to volunteer to become a sponsor site is Friday.
The Jones County school district doesn’t have enough eligible students to participate in a federal summer meal program, but administrators are looking into other options to serve children in need, such as through a mobile food service, Foster said.
Many community organizations also step up to provide their own summer meal programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will list community sites starting in mid-May at www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks, and any child may eat at these locations for free, Foster said.
School nutrition contacts
Get more information on school nutrition programs, applying for free and reduced meals, or summer meal sites through the following contacts:
Bibb County: www.bcsdk12.net/Page/394. Call 478-779-2612 by Friday to sponsor a site for the summer meal program.
Bleckley County: http://bit.ly/2pedyKt or 478-934-2821.
Houston County: http://bit.ly/2pefgvB. Call 478-322-3308 ext. 10990 by Friday to sponsor a site for the summer meal program.
Jones County: http://bit.ly/2php2Px or 478-986-1390.
Monroe County: http://bit.ly/2pvVMW4 or 478-992-5609.
Peach County: www.peachschools.org/Content2/24 or 478-825-5933.
U.S. Department of Agriculture: Find sites serving summer meals near you at www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks. The list will be updated in early May, and any child may eat at these locations for free.