Friday, March 17, 2023

RSU 14 students attempt to 'eat their way through alphabet'

By Masha Yurkevich

From a young age, children can remember being told to eat their vegetables, and RSU 14 wants to introduce children to fruits, vegetables and healthy grains that may be new to them during March Madness nutrition month.

RSU 14 is celebrating March Madness by introducing
children and their families to a wide variety of fruits and
vegetables and giving them the opportunity to try new
flavors and recipes and promote healthy eating.
Jeanne Reilly is the Director of School Nutrition at RSU14 and is responsible for the of all aspects of the district’s school nutrition program including developing a budget, writing monthly menus within the USDA Federal School Nutrition Guidelines, staffing the six school kitchens and training the teams, procurement and purchasing, and maintaining operations within all of the federal school nutrition program regulations.

She has been working in school nutrition for 25 years, first as the director of school nutrition for Westbrook School Department, then as the director of school nutrition for both Westbrook and Windham, and finally just for RSU 14.

“March is National Nutrition Month, and we have a tradition of celebrating all month long by eating our way through the alphabet,” says Reilly. “We started on March 1, featuring fruits and vegetables that start with the letter A, and will end on March 31 with vegetables ending with Z. We primarily focus on fruits and veggies, but we occasionally add in a healthy grain, such as quinoa on our Q Day, and we just served freekeh on our F Day.”

Reilly said students have done this every year since she’s worked for Windham and Raymond schools.

“The purpose is to introduce children and their families to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, and to give them the opportunity to try new flavors and recipes. We want healthy eating to be exciting and fun,” she said.

Reilly has been working in the food and nutrition industry for 40 years, from hospitals to the Women Infants and Children program (WIC), to working as the director of food service for long term care facilities.

“Finally, as I was seeking out a better work life balance, I really found my lifelong passion in school nutrition,” said Reilly. “I truly believe that school nutrition programs, feeding school children breakfast and lunch, have the unique opportunity to influence the eating habits of children. We are building up the next generation of eaters, fueling them for the future and one of our goals is to inspire children to be more adventurous eaters and to develop a love for fruits and vegetables and healthy food.”

According to Reilly, during the "eat your way through the alphabet" program, RSU 14 likes to provide nutrition information, cooking tips and recipes for the fruits and veggies that they are featuring.

“Each day, our social media content (Facebook and Instagram) is filled with posts about what we are doing and providing recipes that families can try at home,” she said.

On a regular day for Reilly, you may find her working at a register during meal service because they always seem to be perpetually short staffed, or planning menus, managing food orders, or checking in with each of their six kitchens to make sure everyone has everything they need to prepare breakfast and lunch as needed. That’s in addition to emails, budgeting, marketing, planning equipment purchases and all of these things are part of a typical workday for Reilly.

Reilly said that in Maine, school meals continue to be available to all school children at no cost and this is a great benefit to families during these trying times, when inflation continues to significantly impact household budgets.

Families can save money on their grocery budgets by having their children eat breakfast and lunch at school, Reilly said.

Studies show that the healthiest meals that children eat are the meals they eat at school, so healthy school meals at no cost is a win/win for families.

Nutrition information, cooking tips, and recipes for the fruits and vegetables that are being featured this month can be found on the Windham Raymond School Nutrition Program’s Facebook page and on Instagram at lunch4kids_rsu14. <

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