Portland sees more than nutritional benefit in school lunches

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PORTLAND — The School Department kicked off a campaign to help raise awareness and participation in the school lunch program, and enlisted some help to do so.

Mayor Michael Brennan came to Lyseth Elementary School for Farm Fresh Friday on Jan. 30 to promote the “Choose School Lunch” campaign and have lunch with a handful of kindergartners.

The students and Brennan had pizza made with dough from Amato’s, blueberries from Downeast, strawberries from Bowdoinham, carrots from Aroostook County, and cocktail tomatoes from a greenhouse in Madison.

“We want to support local and healthy food,” Brennan said after lunch, adding it was important to provide access for the students to these kinds of foods. 

Food Service Director Ronald Adams said the program shows what the schools have been doing to provide “quality foods everyday.”

“We want to make sure parents are aware and (have their kids) buy lunch on Fridays,” he said.

Adams said when more kids buy school lunch, the department has more money to spend on local products, which tend to be more expensive.

“Choose School Lunch” is a collaboration between the schools, Portland-based Cultivating Community, the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, and FoodCorps, a team of AmeriCorps leaders working to connect kids with better food options. Funding for the project came from the John T. Gorman Foundation.

Stephanie Aquilina, the food access program manager for Cultivating Community, said the sponsors put together a series of materials to communicate changes to the meal program, including newsletters and brochures to go home to families, as well as posters and t-shirts in the schools for students. She said things like taste testings for the students are good ways of engaging and exciting the students about local food.

Brennan said his goal to increase the amount of local foods in the schools to 50 percent by the end of the year. He said 85 percent of all food in Maine is imported, which is costly and bad for the environment because it requires transportation.

Adams said the district is at 35 percent locally sourced food now, and the growth has been 5 to 10 percent annually.

“We just keep looking for different avenues to serve more meals to get more food,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Portland Mayor Michael Brennan visited Lyseth Elementary School on Jan. 30 to promote the school lunch program and launch the “Choose School Lunch” campaign. He had lunch with a handful of students from the Spanish immersion class, and is seated with Dezzi Louisos-Daniels and Rayaan Abdirahman.

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Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.