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The Abbey Group Made the News! Vermont Expands Free, Reduced-Price School Lunch Program

WCAX stopped by one of our accounts, the Barre Town School,  to talk about new changes to the Free and Reduced lunch program here in Vermont! See below for the full story.

Vermont expands free, reduced-price school lunch program

Posted: Sep 03, 2013 8:47 AM EDTUpdated: Sep 05, 2013 5:00 PM EDT

By Alexei Rubenstein – bio | email

BARRE, Vt. -Hot dogs are on the menu at Barre Town Elementary School. And with a new state law taking effect this school year, there’s enough to go around.”And now this sweet deal for families who qualify for reduced-priced lunches,” said Tim Crowley, the principal at Barre Town Elementary School.Gov. Peter Shumlin, flanked by educators and nutrition advocates, announced the implementation of a law that will now provide free lunches for all income-eligible students. While free breakfasts have been around a few years, reduced-priced 40-cent lunches have been the norm, even for families meeting federal poverty guidelines.

“I hope that this is a model for other states to be looking at,” Vt. Education Secretary Armando Vilaseca said. “The population of children that are struggling, particularly during these tough economic times– and as we push and push our children in our schools to do more, one of the things that we can do is to provide them with these simple opportunities to be full and not to worry about being hungry.”

The state is paying for the program with $400,000 from the general fund.

Crowley says the effort should be viewed as part of a multipronged effort to boost achievement.

“To make sure that our students meet academic standards, particularly those students who only coincidentally also qualify for free and reduced-priced meals,” he said.

“Common sense tells you that kids can’t learn when they’re hungry and to split hairs between free and reduced lunch population– to me, isn’t worth it,” said Brian Ricca, the superintendent of schools in Montpelier.

Across the state, some 40 percent of Vermont students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Officials estimate the new program will be taken advantage of by upward of 6,000.

“The meal system does not identify anyone differently, so whether they’re paying full price or whether they’re getting free meals– it’s completely anonymous,” said Nina Hansen, the director of food service at Barre Town.

For hungry Vermont school kids– a new exception to the rule that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

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The Abbey Group Well Represented at St. Johnsbury. -WCAX News Story- New cookbook for Vt. cafeteria cuisine

The Vermont Education Agency and a group of local nonprofits have come together to create the first-of-it’s-kind cafeteria cookbook. Abbey Group directors and chefs were there in St. Johnsbury to help try out some of the  recipes and pick up new ideas.  Check out the WCAX link below for the full video, and quote from Abbey Chef Director Josephi Gerardi.

New cookbook for Vt. cafeteria cuisine

New cookbook for Vt. cafeteria cuisine

Posted: Aug 14, 2013 6:53 PM EDTUpdated: Aug 16, 2013 5:00 PM EDT

By Alexei Rubenstein – bio | email

ST. JOHNSBURY, Vt. -Call it a boot camp for school cooks. Dozens of school cooks and food directors from across the state are spending the week in St. Johnsbury to pick up new ideas and refine their techniques.When Penny Goss of Bakersfield started in the school kitchen back in the 1960s, it was simpler time.

“Back then there were hardly any regulations, you just fed the kids,” Goss said. “You did homemade things and you fed them. And now there a lot of things; you have to follow the rules.”

This year, the Vermont Education Agency and a group of local nonprofits have teamed up to produce a first-of-its-kind cookbook with recipes by school cooks for school cooks. Some seasonal items on the menu– sautéed greens and beans, Magenta-root slaw and corn salad.

“What we were trying to strive for was a cookbook that anybody would pick up and say, ‘wow, pictures– they’re great; the food looks wonderful,’ and that it brings up the level of school meals in terms of yeah, this is a profession, these are real culinary skills we’re talking about,” said Abbie Nelson of Vermont FEED.

Back in the classroom, the cooks fine-tune some of the recipes that will make the final cut.

There was a backlash at some schools last year over the news federal standards, complaints that there wasn’t enough to eat or that even popular local foods didn’t meet the standards.

“A little tough, but it really turned out well. And I think as we go forward with this, it’s going to change a bit. Kids are more accepting of it. I think it was the high school kids in the beginning that were kind of not too receptive. The younger kids coming up, they don’t know any better. They’re going to be really just learning it as they go and they think that is the norm,” said Joseph Gerardi of Townshend.

New England Culinary Institute students helped test many of the new recipes.

“The volume that school food service directors have to provide, the limited budgets that they work with, the limited staff that they get to work with was really a revelation for my students and myself, as well,” said Jim Birmingham of NECI.

The new cookbooks will go out to every school this fall– an effort to share the love of cooking with kids across the state.


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Child Nutrition Programs Summer Institute

Many Abbey staff members recently attended the Vermont Department of Education and Child Nutrition Child Nutrition Programs Summer Institute at Spaulding High School in Barre. The Program has released the following press release:

August 15, 2012

Making food fun for kids while gearing up for school lunch program changes

MONTPELIER – The 2012 Child Nutrition Programs Summer Institute kicked off this week at Spaulding High School in Barre with school food service staff, nurses, classroom teachers, and child care staff from around Vermont gathering to learn more about whole and local foods that fit the most recent Dietary Guidelines. School personnel studied new meal pattern requirements, food safety and sanitation, and took an in-depth look at the USDA Foods Program.

Much of the conference has concentrated on cooking with the seasons, while also focusing on nutrition, new dietary guidelines, and food safety and sanitation. The Child Nutrition team partnered with Vermont FEED and the Vermont School Nutrition Association to create workshops which explore creative and healthy ways to incorporate local foods into menu planning.

“This year the Institute is offering approximately 30 courses to school food service staff and child care program staff as they work to implement the new meal patterns established by the USDA” said Laurie Colgan, Child Nutrition Program Director. “These new meal patterns require the schools to offer a wider variety of fruits and vegetables, more whole grain items, and to incorporate beans, peas, and legumes into school menus” she said.

Working with farm and garden-fresh produce is becoming the norm in Vermont schools and with the changes this year to the National School Lunch Program requirements, the amount of available fresh fruits and vegetables used in school meals will be increasing every day. The challenge for many schools and families is to find creative ways to introduce children to healthy foods and to encourage them to broaden their tastes. Throughout the week-long institute, school personnel have had opportunities to learn from local chefs and entrepreneurs, to take part in menu planning sessions, kitchen organization strategies, hands-on cooking activities, and to explore the financial and nutritional benefits of using whole foods by integrating school gardens and partnering with local farmers.

Participants have been learning ways to incorporate the More than Mud Pies curriculum to create fun and interactive nutrition education and physical activity in their child care programs while embracing components of the Healthier U.S. School Challenge (HUSSC). Harwood Union High School Chefs Paul Morris and Gary McCafferty explored ways to create meals that utilize healthy foods that are inexpensive, and to cook from scratch using seasonal vegetables,

nutritious legumes, whole grains, and lean proteins. The common theme threaded throughout the Institute has been to encourage creativity in the kitchen while staying mindful of healthy eating, partnering with local farmers and businesses, and focusing on the new meal pattern and dietary guidelines while meeting the challenge of serving cost-effective and nutritious school meals.

“The Department’s Child Nutrition team is a valuable resource for schools” said Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca. “The Summer Institute is one of many outreach and training efforts the Department has facilitated over the last decade.” The Commissioner will speak to the summer institute attendees on Friday afternoon over the lunch hour. Vilaseca believes in bolstering school nutrition knowledge and food offerings, and supports farmers and schools working together to provide as much locally grown produce as possible to Vermont’s kids. Additionally he strongly encourages all schools to explore federal programs that can allow schools to provide meals and snacks for the children after school, during school vacations, and throughout the summer.

Contact Laurie Colgan, Director – Child Nutrition Programs, at (802) 828-5153 or for more information.


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