Initiative places local food on school lunch trays

Engaged communities and connections with farmers are helping make school lunches even better in rural communities. Our kids are reaping the benefits and heading back to school with local foods on their plates through a new initiative from the Center for Rural Affairs and Nebraska Department of Education-Nutrition Services.

“Nebraska Thursdays” rolls out statewide in the 2018-19 school year. The initiative urges participating schools to serve a locally-sourced meal in their cafeterias on the first Thursday of each month. Sourcing local products encourages fresh and healthy meals in the school cafeteria; educates students about agriculture; and boosts the area’s economy.

The project began with five very different school districts piloting the program in the 2017-18 school year. Lunchroom staff in these schools helped develop menus and other resources, which are now available to other participating schools. Each of the pilot schools were already implementing various types of local foods into their menus. Nebraska’s approach to Farm to School is about meeting schools where they are at, and building programs one local food menu at a time.

Efforts of the pilot schools impacted 42,000 students and resulted in thousands of food dollars staying in the state. With 95 percent of Nebraska’s annual food dollars typically going out of state, one small change makes a difference.

October is National Farm to School Month, so now is the time to connect with local schools and learn about their plans to promote healthy eating and locally-produced foods. You can also learn how to support a school’s events or how to sell foods to cafeterias on our website at cfra.org/f2s.

Nebraska Thursdays pilot schools

• Wayne Community Schools purchases melons from an area farmer and bakes all of their bread from scratch.

• Overton Public Schools started its local food program by approaching a local farmer.

• In Litchfield, a local fertilizer company built and managed a greenhouse for vegetable production to supply the school. The school also began serving local pork and beef to their students.

• Thayer Central works together with their local cattlemen’s association to bring local beef to lunch trays.

• In Omaha, the state’s largest school district, officials work directly with farmers and distributors.

Feature photo: At Wayne Community Schools, in Wayne, Nebraska, cafeteria workers make all of their bread from scratch. The school celebrates "Nebraska Thursdays" offering local food on the first Thursday of every month.  |  Photo by Kylie Kai