More Students Opt for School Meals in MA

Massachusetts is one of five states offering free school meals for all students in the 2022-23 school year following the expiration of federal waivers that provided free meals for all last year. As a result, about 77% of students in the North Andover Public Schools district are eating school lunch every day – and enjoying all the great options the program is offering. 

The increase in meal participation is a win for the school district and the students. Additional funding means the nutrition department can focus energy on making improvements, from enhancing menus and increasing scratch cooking to implementing new service options to ensure students can start their day with a healthy breakfast.

“My office is near the salad bar at the high school, and I overheard some students talking about the changes we made, commenting on how good they were,” said Erika Murphy, Food and Nutrition Director for North Andover Public Schools.

In the middle of hot subs and pizza on the serving line, students have the chance to grab freshly cut fruits and vegetables. A colorful salad bar features grilled chicken every day and special food bars offer everything from cheeseburger bowls to burrito bowls on different days of the week.

With the addition of a rotisserie cooker in the kitchen, fresh and hot rotisserie chicken meals served with mashed potatoes and corn have become popular among students. With the new panini press, Murphy is excited for the staff to be able to offer students even more options to customize their lunch entrees.

“We are doing much more scratch cooking. The students can even see the chickens cooking in the morning when they stop in for breakfast,” said Murphy. “The small changes we’re making are making big changes in the students’ diets.”

New LED monitors were placed in all of the district’s cafeterias to provide students with the menu for the day, nutritional information as well as photos to help students decide what they want and get through the line.  

School meals are a cost-effective way to ensure students are fueled for learning each day and research shows students eat their healthiest meals at school.

“All of the elementary schools follow the Second Chance Breakfast model,” said Murphy. Under the Second Chance model, breakfast is brought directly to the classroom after the school day has started. About 30% of North Andover’s students are eating breakfast at school as well.

Erika Murphy, Food and Nutrition Director for North Andover Public Schools, MA

The North Andover Public Schools administration has taken notice of the increased participation. Because the nutrition department is making more meals, Murphy has been able to increase the number of hours the department support staff can work. The increased hours allow the team to prep more fresh-cut produce and prepare items cooked from scratch.

“I am so lucky to have the managers we have on staff. I suggest or share thoughts on something new we might be able to do and they run with it,” said Murphy.

The increased participation is also allowing the school nutrition department to continue trying out new menu items and features. Students at the high school and middle school will soon be able to order customizable hot and cold subs. The students can order their sandwiches online in the morning and pick them up from a mobile kiosk station at lunchtime. 

Murphy says the changes aren’t just being noticed by the students, parents throughout town have been discussing the positive change in lunch options. 

More exciting changes are in store as North Andover’s high school and middle school both will be undergoing cafeteria makeovers this summer.

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