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Hamden Public Schools system launches 2 new nutrition programs

To help with food and nutrition insecurity within the school community

HAMDEN, Conn. — The Hamden Public Schools system has introduced two new programs to provide nutritious meals to the students both at school and at home. It's all in partnership with Whistons School Nutrition, and it started with the breakfast nook created at Hamden Middle School.

“It helps especially when you're running late. I’m one of those people that always runs late in the morning. And I know that I can just come to school and grab a quick breakfast before I go to class," said Jamarie Gonzalez, an 8th Grader at Hamden Middle School.

The Breakfast Nook was created so that the first thing students are greeted by when they get to school is a nice grab-and-go meal. It's something the district came up with while on spring break after noticing many students were not utilizing the breakfast at school.

"We looked at breakfast participation across all schools and Hamden Middle was on the lower end," said Adam Sendroff, Food Coordinator for Whitsons School Nutrition.

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Since the Breakfast Nook popped up, the school has seen at least a 20% increase in kids eating breakfast at school. 

"It helps with food security issues, nutrition security issues. It’s important for them to be healthy and also to succeed academically," Sendroff said.

Right now, the food from the Breakfast Nook is free to all students, thanks to USDA waivers. But those waivers will expire at the end of June. And soon, the students who are not signed up for free and reduced lunches will have to start paying again.

"And that's not great news for food security," Sendroff said.

On top of the nook, the district also started a new program with Cooking Matters Connecticut. It's an evening program at Church Street Elementary School, free to families from that school who signed up.

"We teach cooking skills, of course, a lot of nutrition info, and then budgeting because none of that matters if we can’t afford to get the food home," said Kellie Gilbert, Community Health Educator for Community Health Network of Connecticut Foundation, Inc., which runs Cooking Matters. 

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It’s a free, six-week evening class for a select group of families who learn how to cook and buy healthy meals on a budget. They are sent home with fresh groceries so they can try the recipe on their own.

“Healthy food that’s quality food should not just be a luxury for just some,” said Karen Butler, the Principal at Church Street Elementary School.

The class also involves a grocery store tour, where the teachers take families through the store, help them learn how to read labels, and pick out the best healthy deals. 

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“We are not here to make a major change to your life, we are here to tweak skills, we are here to learn from you. And it’s fun to be in class, it’s all about relationship building," said Nargis Karampurwala, Program Director for Cooking Matters CT and Community Health Network of Connecticut Foundation, Inc. 

As of right now, the Cooking Matters CT classes are only being offered to families at Church Street Elementary School in Hamden. They are in week four of the six-week course. The Community Health Network of Connecticut Foundation received a grant to make that happen. The district and those with the foundation say they hope to have more classes in the future at Hamden and other districts, but they need the funding to make that happen.

To learn more about Cooking Matters CT, click here.

Julia LeBlanc is a reporter at FOX61 News. She can be reached at jleblanc@fox61.com Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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