USDA approves RTE meal box delivery for children in rural Alaska

By Deniz Ataman

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty/filo
Source: Getty/filo

Related tags Usda kids nutrition

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) approved the demonstration project, Alaska Meals to You (M2Y), for the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development (AK DEED), to help find an effective way to provide meals to children in rural Alaska during the summer months.

The demonstration project​, which utilizes a recent authority that allows for summer meal programs in rural areas without the requirements for meals to be consumed on-site (non-congregate), is expected to improve food security for over 4,000 children and serve over 11 rural rural communities.

The project will provide a box of ready-to-eat meals that are in compliance with federal child nutrition guidelines and delivered weekly for each eligible child and includes up to seven breakfasts, seven lunches and seven snacks. Alaska is also approved to test alternative delivery models for bulk food boxes to central community hubs (like schools, libraries and community centers) or mailing the boxes directly to households, with some substitutions like canned or dry milk depending on delivery methods.

Cindy Long, FNS administrator, explained that the Alaska M2Y Demonstration Project is built upon the success of “a previous project operated in some Alaska communities,” citing FNS’ communications with “stakeholders and families in Alaska, including Native communities” as a contributor to the development of the project.

The program will measure cost, participant satisfaction and nutrition quality, among others, over a three-year period to develop a sustainable non-congregate summer food model that will reach rural and hard-to-access areas in Alaska.

Bridging health equity gaps

Although USDA did not provide additional details on whether the meal boxes will include culturally relevant meals for rural Alaskan communities, which include Alaska Natives, the initiative aligns with health equity initiatives presented by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) for the upcoming 2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Last month, the DGAC's Health Equity Working Group and Food Pattern Modeling and Data Analysis subcommittees announced its pilot program to establish dietary intake patterns for Alaska Native and American Indian populations from a health-oriented and culturally appropriate lens.

The pilot initiative, as previously detailed by FoodNavigator-USA​, will incorporate input from specialists possessing a combination of ancestral knowledge and professional expertise in American Indian and Alaska Native culinary traditions, highlighting the significance of offering culturally relevant and scientifically informed support tailored to the unique nutritional and health requirements of these communities. Additionally, it establishes a model for the DGAC's efforts in formulating impactful and culturally sensitive interventions for other demographic groups.                                                                                                                                     

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