The Child Nutrition Program of the Public School System will be providing free meals to all its students starting this incoming school year. The meals will include both breakfast and lunch.
“All of the meals that will be served this coming school year will be free of charge for PSS students,” said program manager Dale Roberts.
He said that PSS had always had a “Free and Reduced Program” but, in order for students to avail of free meals before, families had to apply for it.
“We’d process it and then discern, based on the income information provided, whether you are eligible or not,” he said.
This time, parents need not apply for the free meals. “All of the meals served at public schools will be free of charge, without [parents] having to [submit] an application.
“For private school [students], if they want to avail of free meals, they will have to fill out an application and see if they get approved if they meet eligibility requirements,” he added.
Roberts said the free meals has always been the system with the Head Start Program as it is a low-income program. “With Head Start, we never made them fill out an application. We served the free meal to every child and we basically extended that [benefit] to the food of all the public school students.”
On the other hand, public school students will have to apply for free meals that are obtained outside of PSS. “This happens during spring, Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks as the children are taken to day care by working parents… To be eligible for free meals, you have to apply and your application has to be vetted and approved,” Roberts added.
Aside from breakfast and lunch meals, PSS elementary and middle school students also get an after-school snack on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.
“We did a two-month pilot on Tinian last year to see if we can so after-school snacks for high school students. On Tinian, they are combined middle school and high [school], unlike Saipan. We wanted to see the logistics…,” Roberts said.
“We are going to move it to Rota into the junior senior high school levels, probably during the second month of school. It’s very possible that, by the end of Christmas break, we may have figured out a way to get after-school snacks to all of the high schools on Saipan too,” he added.
Roberts is aware of the food waste issue, especially now that all PSS students will get free meals. “We get a lot of comments from parents, teachers, [and] politicians about food waste…that there’s going to be a lot of waste… One of the things we constantly have trouble with is when a student brings food from home, which is totally fine because I would rather that you eat what you want to eat as long as you are eating,” Roberts said. However, this defeats the purpose of the Child Nutrition Program.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture rules states that we have to serve the children a nutritious meal and we try our best to feed them properly…that is the program and the rules are written that it is meant to be a full meal,” he added.
According to Roberts, meal menus are posted on the PSS website and in the school in advance.
“If you know that your child doesn’t like the menu for a particular day, then you can ask the child to bring lunch. Meals are published at the PSS website and the schools usually post them in the office and in the cafeteria. It’s a six -week cycle so they can figure out the cycle after the first couple of months,” he said.
“One of things that we would like to do for this year is to put up flavor stations with some seasoning so the students do not have to bring their own and we are still figuring out the logistics of that,” he added.