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Snow Days Don’t Deter New England School from Healthy School Meals

After a cold and snowy month of school closings, the sun shone on February 10, just in time to present eight elementary schools in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, with Bronze awards in the HealthierUS School Challenge.

Before the ceremony, I got to visit with Sodexo’s Food Service General Manager who took me through food displays of sample menus, many featuring fresh fruits and vegetables. Her partnership with local farmers and commitment to scratch cooking is at the very heart of Farm to School; the kids get tasty, nutritious meals and local farmers get an added income stream. Even in the winter, through greenhouse farming or storage of seasonal produce, school meals feature locally sourced ingredients.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food with Bee Keeper Mello. He brought a hive from Aquidneck Island Apiaries (honey  is one of the many local ingredients used in Pawtucket’s breakfast and lunches, provided by local farmers)

One example is bee keeper Jeff Mello, who brought not only honey, but a hive! It created a real buzz among the kids, who had an opportunity to sample his wares. This is Know Your Farmer. Know Your Food in action. Breakfast muffins, granola and Asian chicken vegetable lo mein are just a few items made with honey from his Aquidneck Island Apiaries.

I was honored to be joined by Pawtucket’s Mayor Donald Grebien in handing out the HealthierUS Bronze School Awards to Fallon, Baldwin, Curtis, Potter Burns, Varieur, Winters, Greene, and Little elementary schools. HealthierUS Schools is integral program to get kids to eat healthy and be physically active every day. Pawtuckett is a trailblazer among Rhode Island schools on this front, serving as a model for others in the state.

Building a healthier America is a priority for all of us.  First Lady Michelle Obama has taken a particular interest in the subject of nutrition and physical activity—especially as it pertains to children. And HealthierUS Schools are critical to her Let’s Move! initiative.

Sampling Organic Honey Straws (left Bee Keeper Jeff Mello; right Regional Administrator James Arena-DeRosa; students from Pawtucket schools)

It will take a concerted effort among parents, school administrators, food service staff, doctors, nurses, state and local leadership to create a healthier nation. And that is what today’s celebration was all about: Recognizing the efforts of those in the community that have joined forces to create a healthier school environment for Pawtucket’s children!

In case we forget how vital school meals are, I got a quick reminder when speaking to Vice Principal Gilmore and then later with a group of children about all the snow days this winter.  Though I received many of the joyful answers you’d expect, there was one I’ll always remember:   “I hate it - we don’t get lunch”.  A simple reminder that to some children a “snow day” means a day without lunch.

The schools in Pawtucket do what they can on partial days, and they always make sure the kids get breakfast and lunch before a closing – providing a nutritious meal before heading out into the snow.