HOLDEN, Maine — Back in March, budget cuts changed what was served for breakfast at Holden Elementary School, and one third-grade student took notice that eggs had been removed from the menu.
So she started a petition drive to bring back the protein-rich breakfast staple.
“I was sad, and other people were also sad. I told everybody,” Leyla Carreira, 9, of Clifton said of her effort to return eggs to the plates of hungry students.
Her petition reads, in her own spelling: “To whom it may concern, I hear there are no more omlets in the lunch room. This is outragoues. Kids are going crazy without omlets. If we do not get them back we will be crazy.”
Her petition, which was signed by most of the third grade and a couple of other students and teachers, was presented to the Regional School Union 63 board at their May 2 meeting by Superintendent Kenneth Smith. Members of the parent-teacher group responded to her petition by sponsoring omelets Wednesday for the entire school, the superintendent said.
“Her voice was heard,” Principal Don Spencer said as third-graders gobbled up their omelets.
The decision to discontinue eggs was solely based on costs, he and Smith said.
“We looked at what we were serving, and we didn’t need a protein for breakfast [under federal free and reduced food program rules],” Spencer said, explaining why eggs were cut from the school’s food budget. “And it was expensive.”
“We had to remove that … because of costs,” Smith said, adding that eggs will not be returning to the menu.
“There are a lot of things we would like to serve that costs prevent,” Smith said. “I think she [Carreira] understands that.”
The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.
Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2014, eggs and other proteins were removed from the foods required at breakfast, according to Walter Beesley, Director of Child Nutrition for the Maine Department of Education. The rule went into effect nearly two years ago, he said.
“The new breakfast meal pattern now does not require protein as in the past,” Beesley said. “It does require dairy, grain, fruit or vegetable. Protein can be offered as part of the breakfast but in most schools tight budgets limit menus to what is required.”
Schools, which are reimbursed for each meal served, are required to have a protein at lunch, as well as dairy, grain, fruit and a vegetable, he said.
Maine has seen the number of students who qualify for the school-based free or reduced-price food program jump from around 60,100 in 2000-2001 to nearly 79,000 in 2010-2011, an increase from 30 percent to 43 percent of Maine students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
“They still are being served an excellent breakfast,” Spencer said.
A fourth-grader came up with the idea for the petition drive, but Carriera said she took up the cause “because it was important to me.”
Even though Carreira misses cheese omelets for breakfast, she agrees with Spencer that the school’s cook does well with what she has to work with.
“She makes a lot of good stuff,” the third-grader said.