Universal school lunch program to get underway in Massachusetts

A permanent universal school lunch program was approved in Massachusetts this month.
Published: Aug. 22, 2023 at 1:18 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 22, 2023 at 1:53 PM EDT
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CHICOPEE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - A permanent universal school lunch program was approved in Massachusetts this month.

As students head back to school, there are a lot of focus on the classroom, but some believe the cafeteria plays just as important role.

“As parents, as educators, we can enforce the importance of nutrition. It’s about fueling our body and that we’re giving the kids, we’re bringing them forward to good healthy options. They don’t have to work hard at making those decisions in the school atmosphere. We’re bringing them good choices,” said Nicole Maslar with Pyramid Nutrition Services.

Whether your student is eating free breakfast or lunch or bringing their own to school, Maslar said eating healthy meals throughout the day is critical for students.

“With teens and adolescents, they become, I’m finding, more resistant and we got to put into our bodies what we want to perform,” Maslar added.

Maslar said what you eat impacts how you act and perform throughout the day, especially if kids are participating in sports. Having breakfast every morning is also imperative before beginning the school day.

“As parents, we need to make sure our children start the day with a nutritious meal. We always talk about breakfast being the best meal of the day. It is, so we break the fast. We have slept. Our body needs nutrition and energy and we get that energy from the food we eat,” Maslar explained.

Melanie Wilk, director of food services at Chicopee Public Schools, said the district offers various free meal options for their students after a permanent universal free school lunch program was approved in the Bay State this month.

“We have a really big farm-to-school program, so we source a lot from local vendor and farmers. We’re really trying to support the farmers right now with all the flooding,” Wilk explained. “We’re hoping to do after school meals at our middle schools and high schools with the food truck to just kind of offer a little bit of a different take on our supper program.”

She told us the district recently received a grant to collaborate with the food bank of western mass. It will develop farm to school curriculums, teaching the concept in the classroom setting.

“It’s so important to get them to learn about farm-to-school early and learn where their food comes from and see we say from farm-to-tray, so we see from the school gardens or from farm trips where it starts from and how it ends up on the tray and just supporting the local economy. That’s always such an important part of our mission,” Wilk noted.

Maslar gives high appraisal of that program, saying more school districts should follow suit.

“I give it a thumbs up because we are moving out of that traditional cafeteria food, so we want children to realize the efforts we’re putting in to bring them, not only nutritious food, but food, delicious food,” Maslar said.

If you’re looking for some help with what to pack your student for lunch, Maslar encourages using the online tool myplate.gov for advice on how to create a well-balanced meal.

“On that plate, you see half your plate is fruits or vegetables. A quarter of your plate is a protein, so that comes from any of your meat, fish, bean nut options, and the other quarter of your plate is your grain and so if we can encourage your kids to accept more multi-grains, higher fiber foods, brown rices, wheat pastas, quinoa, multigrain breads,” Maslar added.

You can CLICK HERE to learn more about the services offered at Maslar’s nutrition business in Springfield and Westfield.