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Michigan schools to benefit from USDA grant to support healthier foods

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published October 14, 2015


METRO DETROIT — Michigan is one of 11 states to be awarded close to $500,000 in federal grants aimed at helping school nutrition professionals to better prepare healthy meals for their students.

Nationally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding over $8 million in grants to support healthier foods in schools.

Approximately $2.6 million in grants will support the implementation of new national professional standards for all school nutrition employees who manage and operate the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, and $5.6 million will go to help states expand and enhance food service training programs and provide nutrition education in school, child care and summer meal settings.

The Michigan Department of Education received approximately $496,000 in USDA grants, which MDE spokesperson Bill DeSessa said will help expand and enhance food service training programs and provide smarter lunchroom training in schools.

“When you are talking about school nutrition and meals here in Michigan, a grant such as this is hugely important, because research has shown healthy children, good nutrition and good eating habits go a long way to helping children perform their best academically,” he explained.

The funding for MDE comprises two grants. A $146,000 grant involving a partnership with the School Nutrition Association of Michigan will train up to 1,500 school nutrition staff members in nutrition knowledge and skills development.

The other grant, totaling $350,000, will expand partnerships with the Michigan State University Extension, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to develop, evaluate and sustain a statewide technical assistance and coaching system targeting K-12 schools.

Under the program, MSU Extension educators will assist 100 schools in creating student nutrition advocacy teams, adopt smarter lunchroom strategies and sustain healthy school environments.

DeSessa said the MDE also participates in the National School Lunch, School Breakfast and Afterschool Snack programs, which were established to make nutritionally balanced, low-cost meals, snacks and/or milk available statewide to children through the completion of high school.

The federally funded meal entitlement programs are available to public and nonprofit private schools, and residential child care institutions.

“Those programs serve a lot of meals every year to students, but the almost $500,000 in grants from the USDA is also something that is necessary and is going to be put to good use across Michigan,” DeSessa said. 

Michigan is one of only 11 states to receive both a fiscal year 2015 USDA Team Nutrition Training grant and a Professional Standards Training grant, according to Tim English, regional administrator for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service.

“These grants are an exciting opportunity to enhance the expertise of Michigan’s school nutrition professionals and engage students, teachers, food service staff and administrators in new approaches to achieve a healthier school environment,” he said in a statement.

Funding for the Team Nutrition Training grants are awarded as part of the USDA’s Team Nutrition initiative, which provides resources, training and nutrition education lessons for schools and child care providers.