NFSMI Newsletter


Team Up for School Nutrition Success!

teamup-newsletterNFSMI, in conjunction with USDA, hosted 100+ attendees for the Team Up for School Nutrition Success pilot workshop for school nutrition professionals in the USDA Southeast region on November 12-13, 2014, at The Institute.  The workshop provided customized technical assistance by pairing participants with a mentor from a district of comparable size.  The workshop also provided sessions of best practices in key operation areas that included menu planning, plate waste, increasing participation, and financial management.  Prior to attending the workshop, participants utilized a pre-assessment tool to assess their current operation.  Additionally, NFSMI’s Applied Research Division trained the mentors on how to utilize a research-based coaching model that enabled participants to navigate through their specific areas of concern.  Team Up participants worked to develop personalized goals, strategies, and an action plan to take back to their districts.  NFSMI plans to provide a 3, 6, and 12 month follow-up evaluation of those participants who wish to participate. [Read More…]

Minneapolis Students Gear up for a School Year Full of Fresh, Locally Grown Foods

MPS Jr. Iron Chef Competition with Chef Ann Kim

MPS Jr. Iron Chef Competition with Chef Ann Kim and a True Food Chef Council member

It’s that time of year – books, backpacks and a BBQ! That’s right – Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is preparing for its annual Farm to School Community BBQ, a much anticipated back-to-school event that kicks off the school year. The following guest blog features inspiring initiatives MPS has implemented to serve local foods to its 35,000 students in the district.

Since 2011, MPS has sourced fresh produce, meats, baked goods and other products from local farmers and manufacturers. Purchasing local foods supports Minnesota farms and small businesses and provides opportunities for students to learn how their food is grown by extending farm to school efforts beyond the cafeteria and into the classroom with visits from farmers and taste-tests.

Farm to school also helps to support another USDA initiative designed to enhance school meals – the What’s Shaking? Creative Ways to Boost Flavor with Less Sodium initiative. Using local foods means that school nutrition programs are preparing more meals from scratch, allowing them to control the amount of sodium. Farm to school gets students engaged and excited about school meals – and with the community BBQ, both kids and their families get a sneak peek at what’s going to be on the lunch menu for the new school year.

By Kate Seybold, Farm to School Coordinator, Minneapolis Public Schools

What better way to ring in the new school year than by celebrating the bounties of local produce that farmers harvest during the back-to-school season? Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is hosting its Fifth Annual Farm to School Community BBQ – a community event built around fresh food, families and fun! The event brings together MPS students and their families, school staff, local farmers and vendors, True Food Chef Council members and other community partners in celebration of Minnesota Farm to School Month and our farm to school program.

It’s also a great opportunity to give the community a taste of our school food! This year, we expect around 1,000 attendees to join our local food celebration, which generates student excitement and family awareness about the abundance of local fresh fruits and vegetables that farmers grow in our area and that we serve on school salad bars and in delicious, made-from-scratch recipes featured on our school lunch menu! The evening will be filled with tons of roasted corn and other farm to school foods – along with dozens of fun activities and live music. The highlight of the night is the corn-shucking contest to see who can shuck the most ears of corn in only a few minutes.

The 2016-2017 school year marks the fifth year of MPS’ Farm to School Program. Since 2012, MPS has worked with small to mid-size, sustainable growers in our area to incorporate a variety of vegetables and fruit into our school meals. New farm to school foods are often introduced as a trial-run on the menu to allow us to gauge students’ responses and make decisions about moving forward with items. Last year, students went crazy over the roasted cauliflower and the fresh honeydew melon – they loved them! This year, we’ll buy everything from Brussels sprouts to kohlrabi to sweet potatoes, from more than 15 local farms. The sweet potatoes are featured as sweet potato jo-jo’s and in our “Beets and Sweets” menu item – which are roasted sweet potatoes and beets. The kohlrabi is made into a fresh slaw with carrots, apples and ginger.

Along with buying local, our farm to school program works closely with our community partners to provide food education and to interact with the broader community through our Minnesota Thursdays meals, True Food Taste Tests, Jr Iron Chef Competition, farmer classroom visits, and much more. These activities encourage students to be more adventurous eaters and educate them about where their food comes from.

Our farm to school initiative has also helped us meet and exceed the guidelines to keep sodium minimal in school meals. Also, less food seems to go to waste with fresh, flavorful scratch-cooking. At the end of each school year, we ask our school nutrition staff to complete surveys about popular farm to school menu items among their students. This information helps us to decide which items we would like to procure the following year through our farm to school program.

Building our farm to school program has been a learning process. We decided the best way to help other districts join this local food movement would be to share all the lessons we learned along the way! Our recently published Farm to School Toolkit has tools and resources that have been developed since the program’s inception in Minneapolis.

To learn more about farm to school programs, check out the Community Food System’s Webpage and to explore local and regional food systems in your community, visit the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass and the USDA Farm to School Census. Also, USDA’s What’s Shaking? Creative Ways to Boost Flavor With Less Sodium, a national sodium-reduction initiative, fosters creative ways to boost flavor and maximize taste to support efforts to lower the sodium content of school meals.

Rae Rusnak chatting with MPS families at the Farm to School Community BBQ

Rae Rusnak (L & R Poultry and Produce) next to her squash and beets, chats with MPS families at the Farm to School Community BBQ

Celebrating Progress: Back to School 2016-17

Students at Yorkshire Elementary School (Va.) enjoying healthy school meals

Students at Yorkshire Elementary School (Va.) enjoy healthy school meals.

As Deputy Under Secretary, I have the honor and the pleasure of traveling to schools across the country to see our programs in action. Through my visits, I’ve had a chance to meet with hundreds of dedicated school administrators and school nutrition professionals, hearing countless testimonials of how they strive every day to serve students nutritious foods that will help them succeed in the classroom and grow into healthy adults. As a former school nutrition director myself, these visits are one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

Now, as students return to school and we all turn our thoughts to the year ahead, I can’t help but to be inspired by what’s to come. More than 50 million children attend schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. These students are experiencing school environments that are healthier than ever, with balanced meals, healthy snacks, nutrition education and consistent messaging about the importance of healthy eating.

And the proof is in the pudding – or in this case, the low-fat yogurt! School breakfast has taken off, setting children up for success by ensuring they get a nutritious meal to start each and every day. Participation in school breakfast has climbed steadily from approximately 10.5 million in fiscal year 2008 to more than 14 million children in fiscal year 2015, an increase of more than 32 percent. Across the board, students are eating more fruits and vegetables – to the tune of a 16 percent increase in vegetable consumption. And they are exposed to new nutritious foods through increasingly popular farm to school programs – now at more than 42,500 schools nationwide – that bring fresh, local produce onto kid’s trays and into their diets. It’s clear that the healthy eating movement is gaining traction in our schools.

Equally as important, millions of low-income children are now guaranteed access to meals at school through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP is an optional cost-sharing partnership between the federal government and school districts in high-poverty areas that allows eligible schools in lower income areas to serve nutritious lunches and breakfasts to all students at no cost. This greatly reduces the administrative burden on schools and eliminates the stigma associated with free or reduced priced meals. Close to 8.5 million students from more than 18,000 schools across the country participated in the program in school year 2015-16. We look forward to another year of success stories of knocking out child hunger with the Community Eligibility Provision.

But before we move full speed ahead into the new school year, I encourage everyone to take a moment to celebrate the progress that’s been made. From school nutrition professionals to manufacturers, teachers to parents, students to principals, community leaders to farmers: We should all be proud of the role we’ve all had in shaping the healthy eating movement that will nurture generations of children for years to come.

Thank you to all who have contributed to that progress, and cheers to a healthy and successful school year!

New MyPlate Resources for Families

Family in the park

MyPlate has new resources for families working together toward a healthier lifestyle.

It’s that time again…back-to-school season is upon us. It’s an exciting time of year for kids, offering a new beginning with the promise of new friends and new experiences. It’s also a great time for families to establish a new routine and work together toward a healthier lifestyle. and Team Nutrition just launched new resources to help your family eat better together, including printable activity sheets, tips for making mealtimes fun and stress-free, and videos featuring real families who share healthy eating solutions that work for them.

For example, meet Lilac and PJ. See how this family of five (and grandma too) makes healthy eating work, while incorporating their Laotian heritage and adjusting to the addition of a new baby.

Every family is unique. When it comes to healthy eating, choose a starting place that works for your family, whether it’s going to a farmers market together or letting kids plan your next healthy dinner menu. Visit for more ideas to get kids of all ages involved in planning healthy family meals:

  • For younger children, try our MyPlate Grocery Store Bingo game during your next shopping trip. Kids can learn about the food groups while you shop.
  • If your kids are picky eaters, try the MyPlate Food Critic activity to expose them to new flavors. In this activity, kids are empowered to pick out and rate a new food.
  • For tweens and teens, the Kid’s Restaurant activity lets kids be the chef by planning and preparing a meal for their parents.
MyPlate Grocery Store Bingo

MyPlate Grocery Store Bingo is a great activity for kids accompanying mom or dad on a grocery shopping trip.

And when it comes to healthy eating at school, the USDA’s Team Nutrition initiative has a number of free Back-to-School resources, including:

  • Welcome to School Lunch!
    This handout for kindergarten parents introduces kids to school lunch and provides an activity for children to sort lunch foods into the five food groups. It also includes a “Color Adventure” challenge where families taste-test new fruits and vegetables of different colors.
  • What You Can Do To Help Prevent Wasted Food
    This booklet discusses ways to reduce, recover, and recycle food before it goes to waste. Get ideas for your school by reading tips for school nutrition professionals, teachers, parents, students, and school administrators.
  • A Guide To Smart Snacks in Schools
    This colorful booklet provides an overview of Smart Snacks Standards and how to tell if a food and beverage meets the requirements. This is a ready-to-go resource for anyone that oversees the sale of foods/beverages to students on the school campus during the school day.

For more healthy eating tips and resources, sign up for MyPlate email updates and the Team Nutrition E-Newsletter.

MyPlate Guide to School Lunch infographic

The new MyPlate Guide to School Lunch discusses how school meals help kids meet their nutritional needs and support learning.

Farmers Market Managers: Innovative Entrepreneurs Meeting Community Needs

Elvis Cordova with Crofton Farmers Market managers

Elvis Cordova (middle), USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs presents National Farmers Market Week proclamations to (left to right) Crofton Farmers Market managers Chad Houck and Scott Hariton. Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Joe Bartenfelder and Maryland Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary, Jim Eichhorst.

The demand for local food is strong and growing. To meet the growing demand, farmers market managers are becoming creative entrepreneurs who connect rural America to urban and suburban businesses.

Last week, during National Farmers Market Week, I had the pleasure of visiting Crofton Farmers Market in Crofton, Maryland, to recognize state and local efforts to bring fresh foods and economic growth into their community. During my visit, I was given a tour of the market by market managers, Chad Houck and Scott Hariton, who are business partners with a passion for their community.

Throughout my tour, I was amazed by the diversity of products offered, and struck by the evolution of farmers markets over the last few decades. This segment of agriculture is a vibrant growth area that is drawing young people back to rural communities, generating jobs and improving the quality of life in communities. I saw first-hand how farmers markets are bringing people together and providing Americans with fresh products.

With USDA’s continued support, farmers markets and local food systems have seen tremendous growth. In fact, USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory now lists over 8,600 markets, an increase of almost 98 percent between 2006 and 2016.

One of the most appealing aspects of my visit to the Crofton market was when the managers shared their business background as co-owners of a locally grown salsa business, which is also a vendor at the market. To me, this was a perfect display of how farmers markets have become a critical ingredient in local economies providing jobs and opening up direct farm-to-consumer economic transactions. Industry estimates show U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008, and experts anticipate that value to hit $20 billion by 2019.

Since the 2008 Farm Bill, the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) has awarded over $58 million through 879 projects to support direct marketing efforts for local food. Recognizing the success of this program, Congress expanded FMPP in the 2014 Farm Bill to include the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) to support the aggregation, distribution, storage, and processing of local food. Last year, LFPP funded 191 projects totaling $12.7 million, and the FMPP funded 183 projects totaling $14.4 million. Since 2009, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has funded over 250 farmers markets projects totaling $13.5 million to promote fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, many farmers markets vendors provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits to consumers. In 2015, USDA awarded $8.1 million in grants for projects to enhance the effectiveness of SNAP operations at farmers markets through Farmers Market SNAP Support Grants. All of this has led to SNAP redemptions of $19.4 million at farmers markets in fiscal year 2015. Accepting SNAP benefits at farmers markets is a win-win-win situation. It expands the customer base for farmers and markets, gives SNAP recipients access to healthy foods, and encourages the sale of locally-sourced produce.

The robust business growth at farmers markets also bring community benefits. Sixty-four percent of markets that host community events reported an increase in customer growth. This combination of a diverse vendor base and community-focused activities allows farmers markets to become ideal business models.

With partnerships between farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers continuing to grow, the result it obvious: these opportunities help drive job growth in agriculture, increase entrepreneurship in rural communities, expand food access and choice, and most importantly provide communities with a space to come together and enhance the quality of their lives and their futures.

Getting Ready for Back to School? It’s MyPlate Quiz Time!

Test Your Food Group IQ graphic

Test your food group knowledge with new quizzes available at

Think you know a lot about the five food groups? The USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion – the group that created MyPlate – just released a set of quizzes on the five food groups. These quizzes, designed to challenge, teach, and even entertain, are intended for anyone who wants to learn about the food groups or wants a refresher – adults and kids alike.

USDA’s food groups have been around for about 75 years. Though the current names of the food groups – fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy – have changed slightly over time, the food groups were key components of MyPyramid (2005), the Food Guide Pyramid (1992), Food Wheel (1984), Hassle-Free Daily Food Guide (1979), Basic Four (1956), and Basic Seven (1940). For more information on the previous food guides, visit A Brief History of USDA Food Guides. Food groups make it easier to learn about nutrition and plan healthy meals. Each food group provides specific nutrients that our bodies need, so instead of trying to track dozens of nutrients, you can just focus on getting the five groups.

Like MyPlate and the website, these new quizzes encourage people to make healthy food and beverage choices from all five food groups.

The quizzes will test your knowledge not just on what foods are in each group (Where do tomatoes go anyway?), but they touch upon nutrition, health, and other benefits of each of the food groups (What beneficial nutrients are in whole grains that aren’t in refined grains?).

For all of us, eating healthy is a journey shaped by many factors, including our stage of life, situations, preferences, access to food, culture, traditions, and the personal decisions we make over time. It’s important to remember that all food and beverage choices count. The website offers ideas and tips to help you improve your health. The new MyPlate quizzes are another tool to use to help move yourself – or others – in the right direction.

To test your knowledge of the five food groups, visit