Portland schools add free breakfasts to the menu

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PORTLAND — Students at five public schools will have access to free breakfasts beginning in September.

“Children need to start the day right with breakfast, and we really wanted to reduce stigma (associated with free meals),” Ron Adams, food services director for Portland Public Schools, said. “We wanted to offer breakfast universally at no charge to any student.”

Reiche Elementary School, East End Community School, Riverton Elementary School, Presumpscot Elementary School and Lincoln Middle School are included in the program. Reiche is also offering free lunches.

Free breakfasts have been the standard at Reiche over the past several years, and the program is expected to expand to the rest of the city’s 16 schools over the next two years.

Students participating in the program will arrive at school at the regular time and eat breakfast in their classrooms for the first 10 minutes of the day. Although eight of the schools in the district do not have kitchens, and cereal is served rather than hot meals, all food served at breakfast and lunch will follow the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s HealthierUS School Challenge Bronze Award standard.

“I think there is a perception that some of the breakfast foods aren’t as healthy as they could be, but without kitchens in eight schools, it’s hard to do a breakfast,” Adams said. “We pick lower sugar (cereals) so that they meet all of the requirements.”

Meals are subsidized by the USDA.

“What we see is that the counts go up significantly when everybody has access to the meals. Not only do more kids of every class take the meals and have a good start to the day, but it works better in the school lunch business; the more participation you have, the better you’re off financially,” Adams said.

Because each free meal offered to students is subsidized by the federal government, the more students take advantage of the program, the more money the district receives from the government, Adams said.

He said more information on the free and reduced-cost meal program will be sent home to parents on the first of school, Sept. 6. Applications for the program must be returned by Sept. 26.

Amber Cronin can be reached at [email protected] or 781-3661 ext. 125. Follow her on Twitter: @croninamber.