MADISON — Area school districts are among the first in the state to meet new school nutrition standards and receive reimbursements from the federal government.

School districts based in Madison, Skowhegan and Anson will receive six cents per free and reduced cost meal that is served as a result of meeting nutrition standards under the latest federal legislation on school food, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.

“That may not sound like a lot but it probably adds up to a couple thousand dollars,” said Todd LeRoy, superintendent of Madison-based School Administrative District 59.

He said that about 60 to 70 percent of the students in the district are receiving free or reduced price lunch.

The new federal nutrition standards, which were passed in 2010, must be met by June 30, said Doris Lindblom, food service administrative assistant for the district, but the federal government is providing cash incentive for those that get it done early. Requirements include meeting daily and weekly amounts of fruits, vegetables, protein and grains served and monitoring the average calories per meal.

About 25 percent of Maine’s 204 school districts have applied for the reimbursement, which became available Oct. 1, according to Walter Beesley, an education specialist at the state Department of Education.

Lindblom, who has worked in the district for 23 years, said that even though the district is getting reimbursed for making healthy changes to their lunch menu, the cost of providing healthier meals is also higher.

“We get six cents per meal. An apple costs about 18 to 20 cents,” she said. “People need to realize it does cost money to do all this, but it’s good for children. It’s nice to see great items on the menu.”

Yet meeting the new standards also makes schools eligible for grants and other monetary incentives they might not otherwise receive, said Ken Coville, the superintendent and director of food services in Anson-based SAD 74.

He said that the schools in his district have received a Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Grant from the USDA that helps them buy healthy snacks. Small businesses and people in the community have also donated to school gardens, which Coville said help the district grow their own produce and in turn help them meet the federal requirements and apply for other grants.

At Madison Elementary School, meeting nutritional standards and physical education requirements allowed the school to qualify for a $500 Healthier U.S. School Challenge Award, which they received last month.

About four percent of schools nationally have qualified for the grant, said Pamela Griffin, spokeswoman for USDA School Nutrition Program.

Waterville, Winslow and Vassalboro are among the districts in the state that haven’t yet been certified as having met the new nutritional requirements. Tina Fabian, director of child nutrition services for those districts, said she plans on applying this month for certification.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
rohm@mainetoday.com