Kids line up for free summer meals

Ashley Schneider, MAPS director of food and nutrition services, and Ellen Hopkins School head cook Michael Ruebke. (Photo/Nancy Hanson.)

Nancy Edmonds Hanson

If tummies are rumbling, chances are that hungry kids are lining up in the lunchrooms of Moorhead elementary schools or waiting for the Spudmobile by picnic tables in several parks.
As it has for many years, the Moorhead School District is serving breakfasts and lunches on weekdays throughout the summer. The meals are free to children and teens who show up at seven sites around the city.
“We’re here for everyone from the age when they start to eat solid food through 18,” explains Ashley Schneider. “They don’t need to attend Moorhead schools or even live here. We don’t ask questions. All they need to be is hungry.”
Schneider, who has directed the district’s food and nutrition services since the pandemic, likes to point out that hunger doesn’t end just because school is out for the summer. “We learned from COVID that all families can be struggling economically. That’s just as true now, with the cost of food going up. The need may have changed for any family. Whatever they’re facing, we just want to feed the kids.”
Breakfast is now being served at four of Moorhead’s five elementary schools from 7:45 to 8:15 a.m. from Monday through Friday. Lunch time is from 11:30 to 12:30 at the four schools where meals are served in the lunchrooms – S.G. Reinertson, Ellen Hopkins, Robert Asp and Probstfield. They’ll continue through Aug. 16.
The same meals commence on Monday, June 10, at the MHS Career Academy, where breakfast and lunch will be offered five days a week until Aug. 1.
Outdoor lunching is an option, too. The friendly Spudmobile is on the go Tuesday through Friday. It arrives at Queens Park (3201 20th St. S.) at 11 a.m.; at Romkey Park (900 19th St. S.) at 11:40 a.m.; and at Arrowhead Park (2600 Sixth Ave. N.) at 12:20 p.m. Service continues for 20 to 30 minutes at each location.
All meals must be eaten at the location where they’re served. Take-out is not available.
The summer feeding program is underwritten by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Schneider describes the meals as similar to the nutritionally balanced choices students already navigate throughout the school term, though a bit more flexible. Among the most popular choices: pizza, chicken nuggets and tacos in a bag. The menu also includes an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with milk.
“We try to keep it as normal as possible to maintain the good habits we’re teaching kids throughout the year,” she explains. That includes an emphasis on making healthy choices … and encouraging them to broaden their tastes.
“Some kids love carrots. Others would rather break their arm than taste one,” she notes. “We encourage them to give a vegetable a fair try. Don’t just say ‘I don’t like it’ after that first taste! It can take 10 or 15 times to develop a taste for something.” She tells of the food service’s perhaps-surprising success with Brussels sprouts. “When we roasted them, the kids found out they loved them. We had to put them as a staple on our menus. We heard them standing in line talking about how good they were.”
The summer program usually serves from 500 to 700 young eaters every day. Some are brought by their parents, who can join their offspring for the bargain price of $5.25. Others attend the YMCA summer program, neighboring home day cares, Head Start or the district’s own summer school. “We’re open to anybody and everybody,” Schneider emphasizes.
Though they may not realize it as they clean their plates, she says that the young diners are getting a helping of education along with their meals. “After all, we are all in the teaching business,” she points out. “The nutrition habits they form now will benefit them for the rest of their lives.”

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