Back to School: 3 Things to Know About Your School Meal Program
Posted on August 17, 2022
With the upcoming school year quickly approaching, we wanted to share a few things that families should be aware of when it comes to the school lunches provided for the year.
Many families and students have a lot of questions during this time. Are free and reduced lunches being phased out in my area? How will I know my food options for the year? What if I have a dietary restriction?
It is important to plan ahead and ensure that you are prepared and have all of the necessary information for the upcoming school year. Let’s review these important topics.
How to Navigate the School Lunch Menu: FD MealPlanner
Each school district will present their menu differently, but typically, there will be a section specifically for nutrition, making it easy to share so that the community knows what is being served that week. Some schools will also send home a print-out of this information. How is your school making this information accessible?
With districts that are partnered with Whitsons, we provide access to the FD MealPlanner website. This website allows families to connect to their school district in order to view the lunch menu, and breakfast if served at the district, for each day.
If you are in one of these districts, simply go to the website and type in FDmealplanner/ to find your school district, and this will take you to a page of all of the schools within your district. Click on your school and view the options available each month.
FD MealPlanner not only shows the menu but also provides the nutritional information for each item as well. You can view top allergens, nutrients and anything else listed on a traditional nutrition label. In addition, you can rate and comment on any menu item to provide immediate feedback on the program.
This is a very helpful tool for those trying to plan ahead. For students looking to eat more nutritionally or who have to follow a specific diet, this is a great tool to utilize throughout the school year to ensure they’re meeting their dietary requirements.
Anyone can access this from their account on FD MealPlanner, as well as print out a menu for their convenience.
Offering Something for Everyone
Going along with this, we want to ensure that every child’s needs are met. On the FD MealPlanner website, you are able to view certain food categories to ensure students will have something to eat each day.
There are categories for vegetarian options, organic and natural selections, food that does not contain pork ingredients and so much more. This way, even those with allergens and dietary and/or religious food restrictions will have the option for a nutritional, great tasting lunch each day.
Also, if it seems that one’s dietary restrictions are unable to be met with the current menu provided, they can share preferences and suggestions with the school district through the website to ensure they will have something to eat.
At Whitsons, not only are we providing these options, but we are communicating it. A huge struggle for those with dietary restrictions is not knowing their options. Our goal with FD MealPlanner was to make this information easily accessible for those who wish to use it.
Will Meals Be Free?
Schools had some flexibility during COVID to serve all kids free meals. Some of those options have now expired, so many schools can’t serve meals free to everyone anymore. Instead, families will do what they did before COVID: schools will take applications and use family income to qualify kids for free, reduced-price or paid meals. Some schools use a program called the “Community Eligibility Provision” that helps them serve meals free to all students. In addition, some schools in CT and MA have created programs this year to ensure all students have access to meals regardless of their eligibility. Anyone can contact their local school to see if they are part of that program.
As the nutrition program standards and rules continue to change, parents undoubtedly have many questions, such as:
- Is there any way for schools to continue serving meals to all students for free?
- My child’s school is going to start charging for meals again, but I can’t afford to pay. Is there a way my child can get meals for free?
- It seems like my child’s school isn’t always serving what shows on the school menus. What is going on?
- How can parents and guardians help their children get healthy food when they are not in school?
For answers to the questions above and/or additional information, visit the USDA website at https://www.fns.usda.gov/cn/2022-23-parent-faqs.
We cannot stress enough how important it is to stay informed—especially if your area struggles with food insecurity or has dietary restrictions that can sometimes be challenging to meet. By simply using the latest communication tools, districts can keep families informed and prepared for the upcoming school year.
If your district is interested in partnering with Whitsons please reach out to us so we can help feed your community nutritional, great tasting food!