Thanks to the efforts of Chad Elliott, Nutrition Director and Culinary Specialist for Decorah Schools, the Decorah Community School District was awarded a Healthy Meals Incentives (HMI) grant in the amount of $149,998.00 from Action for Healthy Kids (AFHK). This grant will allow the purchase of processing equipment and local food to assist in preparing scratch recipes, improving the nutritional quality of school meals. Equipment that will be acquired includes new ovens for Decorah Middle School and Carrie Lee Elementary, frozen yogurt machines for Decorah High School and Decorah Middle School, an immersion blender for Decorah Middle School, food processors for every school, and a new grill/smoker and a patty forming machine for the district.
Elliott shared, “Scratch recipes using local foods gives us the advantage of controlling costs, salt, sugar, and fat. Using proper equipment will allow us to add flavor punches to food without adding any additional ingredients at all. Honoring the food by cooking with the proper method and intensifying the flavor will be one of the ways we will preserve the food’s integrity.”
“Efforts to improve the quality of Decorah School District’s food are always on my priority list. Increasing local food purchases allows consistency of product and the ability to gradually introduce more scratch recipes each year to reduce sugar and sodium. For instance, the new grill/smoker will add a tremendous amount of flavor to smoked pulled pork, BBQ smoked pork ribs, grilled summer squash, grilled chicken sandwiches, grilled asparagus, smoked salmon, grilled pork chops, carnitas, and grilled-glazed carrots–all while adding zero salt, fat, or sugar,” Elliott continued.
The nutrition department was also awarded a Local School Food II grant of $8,000.00 to purchase local meats and vegetables for this school year’s school lunch. Combining this grant with the HMI grant, the district will receive $31,254.00 worth of free local food this year. Elliott commented, “These funds will be used to increase consumption of our district’s local food items. Two to three times each year, we purchase local beef raised by up-and-coming local farmers through our food hub, and then our local Winneshiek Cattlemen bring their grills to the school and cook the hamburgers for our district free of charge. This day is an exciting day for students and staff as they can see and smell the burgers cooking as they enter the buildings. Participation is always very high these days. Pizza is our second-highest participation day, and we will introduce a completely scratch version of our pizza to students for breakfast and lunch using locally grown and milled wheat from an up-and-coming young grower.”
The HMI grant will also support Elliott’s attendance at a training conference. He stated, “We gain so much knowledge and confidence seeing other districts doing what we do. Networking with peers and sharing our success stories with others encourages everyone to succeed.”
The Healthy Meals Incentives grant is part of an allocation of nearly $30 million by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service to 264 schools across 44 states and the District of Columbia.
“Offering healthier school meals is key to helping our nation’s kids get the nutrients they need today and for their long-term development,” said Action for Healthy Kids CEO Rob Bisceglie. “Through this historic investment in school nutrition, we will help school districts across the country overcome challenges and develop solutions to provide nutritious foods for the children they serve.”
“Students in every community deserve access to healthy and nutritious meals,” said USDA Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small. “Today’s announcement demonstrates the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to creating healthier, brighter futures for our children. With these funds, small and rural school districts will be able to modernize their operations and provide more nutritious meals, helping students succeed in the classroom and beyond.”
Action for Healthy Kids is dedicated to improving children’s health and well-being by bringing together and mobilizing educators, families, and other key stakeholders to help children lead healthy lives. Through its core programming and family-school partnerships, AFHK has impacted more than 20 million children in 55,000 schools nationwide to address systemic challenges in underserved communities. To learn more about its growing network of volunteers and champions, visit www.actionforhealthykids.org.