Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced additional support for schools working to serve school children healthy meals with the nationwide expansion of the Team Up for School Nutrition Success Initiative. The initiative will provide school nutrition personnel across the country tailored technical assistance and peer to peer mentoring. This allows schools to address their individual resource and training needs. USDA conducted a pilot of the Team Up effort in the southeast region last fall and will now expand the program to other regions of the country.
The Team Up for School Nutrition Success Initiative is one more in a series of USDA efforts to help schools successfully serve healthier meals, which has included additional funding for school food services, trainings and technical support, and flexibility in the new standards where appropriate.
"Updated healthy meal standards, based on the recommendations of pediatricians, ensure kids across the country to have access to nutritious food," said Vilsack. "Over 90 percent of the nation's schools are successfully achieving updated healthy meal standards. The Team Up program allows the remaining schools still working to meet the standards to pair up and learn best practices from schools that are already successfully serving healthier meals. We will continue to everything we can to support schools as they work to ensure our kids get the healthy start in life they deserve."
The Team Up For School Nutrition Success training is tailored to schools and covers topics like menu planning, financial management, procurement, meal presentation and appeal, as well as youth engagement tactics and strategies to reduce plate waste. Schools have the opportunity to learn from each other in order to make positive strides toward providing healthy school environments with financial stability and strong student participation.
Gina Howard, School Nutrition Director for Warren County School District in Bowling Green, KY, attended the initial pilot in Mississippi and stated, "Coming to the workshop, I didn't know what to expect. But getting to know people, getting their email addresses, getting to talk to them about specifics of their programs, gave me the opportunity to network and be able to find solutions to some of our everyday problems. I will be ever changed by this workshop. It gave me excitement for the future. It gave me an opportunity to see things from a different view point. And my plans from the workshop are to change the perception of school meals."
Attendees at the November Team Up pilot requested additional forums where specific topic areas could be further discussed and best practices shared. As a result, beginning in January, FNS and NFSMI started conducting a monthly Team Up Thursday webinar series. These webinars are focusing on highly requested topics in the area of meal pattern implementation. The webinars will be available to all school nutrition personnel and state agencies in order to broaden the reach of this training opportunity.
This initiative is another way USDA is combating child hunger and obesity and improving the health and nutrition of the nation's children. This is a top priority for the Obama Administration and is an important component of First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! initiative to combat childhood obesity.