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…]

Fall is Here! Celebrate with Pumpkin, 5 Different Ways

Pumpkin 5 Ways infographic

Celebrate fall with these delicious and easy pumpkin recipes from MyPlate. (Click to view a larger version)

Pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween! These versatile vegetables are an excellent source of vitamin A and dietary fiber. To demonstrate different ways you can incorporate this seasonal superstar, MyPlate is showcasing five easy recipes with pumpkin as the main ingredient.

MyPlate encourages you to make half your plate fruits and vegetables. People who eat more vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet are likely to have a reduced risk of some chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients vital for the health and maintenance of your body. Pumpkins are full of color and are a great way to eat your veggies!

Try these recipes featuring pumpkin five different ways to add more vitamin A and dietary fiber to your menus:

  • The Grab and Go Breakfast: Cranberry Pumpkin Muffins
    Bake up these muffins the night before and enjoy them with a glass of low-fat or fat-free milk for a delicious start to your day!
  • The Refreshing Beverage: Pumpkin Smoothie
    Drink up the MyPlate way! One serving of this smoothie gives you 1/4 cup from the Vegetable Group, 1/4 cup from the Fruit Group, and 1/2 cup from the Dairy Group.
  • The Simple Weeknight Dinner: Pumpkin and White Bean Soup
    Mashed beans plus pumpkin make this soup unique. Cook up a quick batch to enjoy on a busy weeknight.
  • The Sweet Treat: Pumpkin Pudding
    Looking for a new dessert? Serve this pudding in small, festive cups for a great party treat.
  • The Fun Family Breakfast: Perfect Pumpkin Pancakes
    Fall weekends are full of activities and events. Start out your day together with a delicious breakfast! Kids can help to measure and mix the ingredients in this simple recipe.

For more healthy recipes, check out, and learn more about the Vegetable Group at Check back with us in November when we feature turkey five different ways!

Small Steps for Using the USDA Farm to School Census

Cross-posted from the National Farm to School Network website:

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released final results from the 2015 USDA Farm to School Census, showing that more than 42,000 schools across the country are operating farm to school programs and another 10,000 have plans to start in the future. During the 2013-2014 school year, these schools purchased nearly $800 million worth of local products from farmers, ranchers, fishermen and other food producers – a 105 percent increase from the 2011-2012 school year – and tended to more than 7,101 school gardens.

The Farm to School Census establishes a national baseline of farm to school activities happening across the country. Whether you’re interested in learning about the national landscape, what’s happening in your state or how your school district participates in farm to school, there are many ways that this information can be used to support your farm to school efforts. Here are three small steps you can take for using Census data to strengthen farm to school activities in your community:

1. Use Farm to School Census data when sharing your story
The Farm to School Census contains data about farm to school activities at the local, state and national levels. Using this data – such as the number of kids impacted by farm to school programs or the dollars spent on local food by schools – can help decision makers understand the benefits farm to school programs have for kids, farmers and communities. Combining validated USDA numbers with your personal experiences and stories can be a powerful tool for raising awareness and spreading your message.

2. Use Farm to School Census data to guide training and technical assistance efforts
The Census includes information on schools that report wanting to start farm to school activities, as well as challenges school report facing when it comes to buying local foods. It also shows which local foods schools are currently purchasing and which they would like to purchase in the future. Knowing this information allows support service providers to help schools get involved in farm to school and assist their expansion of farm to school efforts. Use the Farm to School Census data explorer to download information on the kinds of training and technical assistance schools in your area need most.

3. Use Farm to School Census data to measure progress
Track the progress of farm to school activities in your district or state by downloading raw data from both the 2013 and 2015 Farm to School Census. This raw data provides information to track farm to school participation, dollars spent on local foods, and the number of school gardens throughout each state. Comparisons can be made locally, statewide or nationally. Some states, such as Oregon, have begun to use Census data to create statewide goals and action plans. Regional groups, such as Farm to Institution New England (FINE), are also using Census data to measure progress across multiple states.

Find out more ideas for using Census data by watching a recording of the 2015 Farm to School Census webinar, co-hosted by USDA and the National Farm to School Network in August.

USDA is pleased to celebrate October as National Farm to School Month. All month long we’re working alongside the National Farm to School Network to encourage our partners to take one small step to get informed, get involved, and take action to advance farm to school in their own communities and across the country. Digging into the Census data is one small, easy step you can take today! Happy National Farm to School Month! Check out this new video highlighting Census results and sign-up to receive updates from FNS’s Office of Community Food Systems.

In addition to these three ideas, the National Farm to School Network uses Farm to School Census data to help advocate for policy change. Lawmakers are influenced by research and data, and the Farm to School Census is a great resource for helping legislators understand the positive impacts farm to school programs have on children, families, food producers and communities.

Helping States Build an Agricultural Future

A woman picking apples

A woman picking apples—one of many specialty crops—grown in New England. Since the beginning of the Obama administration, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service has awarded $455.5 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants to all 50 states and several U.S. territories. These grants have supported 6,138 projects that increase capacity, opportunity, and economic success for America’s specialty crop growers. Photo courtesy Alberto Romero.

Specialty crops—fruits, vegetables, nuts and nursery crops—are an agricultural and dietary staple. They’re a central part of a healthy diet and are vital to the economic success of American agriculture and to the farmers and businesses that rely on them for their livelihoods.

That’s why my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, works to support and expand markets for specialty crop growers and producers. This year, through our Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, we awarded $62.5 million to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories to support critical work related to this segment of the agricultural industry.

USDA’s investments are funding a total of 690 projects that will help growers tackle a variety of issues—from food safety training to setting up shared processing centers. These block grants give states and territories vital resources to invest in their growers, build stronger markets and strengthen rural America.

At USDA’s Fall Forum in New Hampshire today, I had a chance to visit with local producers and talk about some of the key issues that will impact the future of agriculture. I heard about the many opportunities and challenges that local farmers are facing, including challenges for small and midsized produce growers. The conversation focused on how we can build on our successes, address the changing landscape and continue to build a strong partnership to support this sector long into the future.

While the Specialty Crop Block Grant program supports a wide range of efforts, some projects help build the capacity of communities to produce and market specialty crops locally and regionally – and there’s a lot of that work taking place in the Granite State.

One project funded this year is led by the Small and Beginner Farmers of New Hampshire in partnership with Merrimack County Conservation District. It will increase access to freeze drying and flash freezing equipment for specialty crop growers. This project will help farmers offer more products beyond the season for locally grown fresh produce, increase farm profits and provide local products to New Hampshire residents throughout the year.

USDA is a committed partner and supporter of American producers regardless of their size, shape or market share. Since the beginning of the Obama administration, AMS has awarded $455.5 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants to support 6,138 projects. USDA continues to partner with state departments of agriculture to increase opportunities for specialty crop producers by supporting projects that create new business opportunities, expand local food systems and improve food safety.

USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF2) coordinates the Department’s strides to develop strong local and regional food systems – including SCBGP projects. Information on local and regional supply chain resources is available on the KYF2 website, and the KYF2 Compass can help users locate USDA investments in their community.

More information on how USDA investments are connecting producers with consumers, expanding rural economic opportunities, and increasing access to healthy food is available in Chapter IV of USDA Results on Medium.

State Agencies are Bringing the Farm to School!

State agency materials at annual USDA Farm to School Grantee gathering

Materials from state agencies are displayed at the annual USDA Farm to School Grantee gathering.

From organizing statewide conferences, to training farmers and child nutrition professionals, to developing farm to school curricula and resources, state agencies are playing a big role in bringing the farm to school. This fact sheet describes effective strategies state agencies are using to help community food systems take root. Here’s a sampling of three ways state agencies are making an impact.

1. Coordinate Statewide Networking and Goal Setting

State agencies are strategic stakeholders in farm to school initiatives as they offer vital connections to the many groups and organizations engaging in food systems across the state. By facilitating a collective vision, coordinating statewide goal setting and strategic planning, and tracking state progress, agencies understand the wide breadth of activities and partnerships and can identify stakeholders who are not yet at the table or part of networks.

The South Carolina Department of Agriculture established a partnership between GrowFood Carolina and the South Carolina Department of Education to develop local food procurement resources for a pilot “farm to freezer” project. Thanks to the partnership, frozen blueberries are now available for schools beyond the traditional growing season.

2. Host Local and Statewide Trainings

State agencies identify needs among stakeholder groups and host statewide conferences and events. Training events can include a wide variety of audiences including educators, farmers and producers, school nutrition professionals and non-profit and cooperative extension professionals. Trainings often focus on delivering technical assistance to help schools purchase local foods; build and maintain school gardens; and integrate agriculture, nutrition and health education into school curricula.

In Nevada, the Department of Agriculture provided Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) training and on-site group mock audit demonstrations for schools and farmers, ensuring both groups understood the certification process. In 2015, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture delivered 15 on-site workshops on maintaining and connecting school gardens to curriculum standards. State agencies such as the Washington State Department of Agriculture and the Wyoming Department of Education have also hosted regional and statewide conferences to engage new stakeholders and provide technical assistance on supply chain connections and procurement.

3. Develop and Share Resource Materials

State agencies develop resources such as state procurement guides, farm to school curricula, school garden guidance and local food promotional materials. In Alabama, the Department of Agriculture and Industries and the State Department of Education partnered with other organizations to develop a farm to school website that surveys farmers and enables schools to find farmers who match their procurement needs.

State agencies also create websites or devote portions of their websites to disseminate farm to school related resources and information. For instance, West Virginia’s Departments of Agriculture and Education collaborated with partners to create the Grow.Educate.Sell website that connects farm to school practitioners across the state.

Dig in!

Since 2013, the USDA Farm to School Grant Program has funded 36 state agencies in 25 states and the U.S. Virgin Islands with nearly two million dollars to expand statewide initiatives including training and technical assistance, increasing capacity for incorporating local foods into school meals and connecting school gardens and culinary activities to classroom curricula. In September, USDA began accepting applications for Fiscal Year 2017 Farm to School Grant Funding. State agencies are eligible to apply for training and support service grants and USDA strongly encourages state agencies to apply. Applications are due December 8, 2016.

Team Up and Show Your Spirit for School Meals!

Food service staff serving barbeque chicken to students

Food service staff serves barbeque chicken to students. (Photo courtesy of Right Light Photography, LLC)

The school nutrition community is celebrating National School Lunch Week from October 10-14. This year’s theme “Show Your Spirit” is all about encouraging parents, students and school officials to show their spirit for school lunch. Through the Team Up for School Nutrition Success (Team Up) initiative, school nutrition professionals have teamed up to provide nutritious and appealing meals to students, offering plenty of reasons for all of us to show spirit for awesome school meals!

The Team Up initiative, created through a partnership between the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and the Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN), provides school nutrition professionals a unique learning experience. The initiative is designed to enhance schools’ food service operations by providing training and peer-to-peer mentorship to school nutrition professionals who want to maintain a healthy environment and strong student meal program participation. The goal of this training is to help schools find simple ways to meet the updated USDA nutrition standards from the 2010 Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act (HHFKA), while increasing the number of students enjoying healthy and flavorful school meals.

Donna Harris, the former Child Nutrition Director for Perquimans County Schools in North Carolina, attended the first Team Up pilot training in 2014 in the Southeast Region. Harris was seeking better way to engage students in school meals. During this Team Up training, she learned best practices, tips and tricks for increasing participation in school meals through panel presentations by school nutrition peer mentors. After the presentations, Harris joined other school nutrition directors to network and brainstorm on creative solutions for common topics such as menu planning and financial management. Directors turned their ideas into achievable goals as they created action plans using SMART goals with the help of their peer mentors. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

In her action plan, Harris wanted to tackle increasing school meal program participation in the district’s middle and high schools, so she set SMART goals to obtain student feedback and create student-approved menus. Back at her district, she conducted two student surveys and group discussions to gauge student preference. As a result, several new student-approved recipes were added to the menu: barbeque chicken, buffalo chicken wraps, chicken salad wraps and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Although students had not responded well to meals that align with these updated nutrition standards in the past, Harris received positive feedback on the additions once she engaged students in nutrition education, explaining the USDA nutrition standards that schools must follow. In fact, the school’s student government association assisted in explaining the nutrition standards to students. Harris demonstrated that when students have a voice in school menus and understand the USDA nutrition standards, they are more satisfied and more likely to purchase school meals. This was evidenced by a notable increase in student meal counts on the days that new menu items were offered. Even school staff provided positive feedback: “the lunches taste good!” and “it was delicious!”

Harris has since retired from Perquimans County Schools, but before her departure, she shared her action plan and best practices learned from the Team Up training with the new director. Harris wanted to see the Team Up spirit live on and encouraged the child nutrition department to utilize the Team Up peer mentorship model to train school nutrition staff.

FNS also wanted to see the Team Up initiative live on after the 2014 Team Up training pilot received rave reviews from attendees. In 2015, FNS hosted an additional six regional trainings to school nutrition professionals nationwide. The regional trainings were equally successful, and now the Team Up initiative has been expanding to state agencies in 2016. So far, 26 trainings have been completed in 25 states, with 11 more scheduled for the remainder of this year. To read about the success of completed State Team Up trainings, visit ICN’s website. Harris is one of many school nutrition professionals who inspire us to show spirit for school meals. FNS thanks all school nutrition staff who work tirelessly to provide our students a nutritious start to a bright future!

During National School Lunch Week, we continue to celebrate the progress that has been made in school meals, child nutrition and the overall school environment over the last seven and a half years. USDA is committed to providing school nutrition professionals with the resources they need to help today’s children grow into tomorrow’s healthy leaders.

FNS’ Team Nutrition is also celebrating National School Lunch Week by announcing the availability of a number of newly modernized and standardized recipes on the What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl website for use in schools and childcare centers. These recipes are developed to assist child nutrition professionals in meeting the meal pattern requirements by providing appealing, kid-approved meals that incorporate whole grains and a wide variety of vegetables and legumes.

For more information about the Team Up for School Nutrition Success initiative, check out the Team Up website and these guest blogs authored by former participants in the Team Up workshops.

Chicken stir fry in a bowl

This delicious and nutritious chicken stir fry features tender, flavorful chicken with red peppers, edamame, and carrots in a delicious ginger-based sweet and sour sauce. Find more kid-approved recipes on What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl.