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Idaho one of 4 states selected for Greek yogurt pilot program in school lunches

Idaho will join three other states in a pilot program to serve Greek yogurt as part of school lunch programs. Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo hailed the decision, saying in a statement, “Greek yogurt is one of the country’s fastest growing industries, and I hope USDA will continue the important process of making this healthy food option increasingly available to young Americans. Idaho, already a leading producer of milk and other yogurt-related ingredients, recently became home to the world’s largest Greek yogurt manufacturing plant in Twin Falls. … Our state is ideal to serve as a part of this pilot project.”

The other three states are New York, Tennessee and Arizona; the USDA opened a solicitation to vendors this week for the four states, with bids due July 22. If the pilot program is successful in the four states, it could expand nationwide. You can read Crapo’s full statement here; the Twin Falls Times-News has a full report here. Lindsay Nothern, spokesman for Crapo, said schools already were serving other types of yogurt, but Greek yogurt, which is higher-protein, wasn’t on the USDA’s list until it was approved in January as a protein. “I don’t think the schools are planning to take meat off the menu and replace it with yogurt,” Nothern said. “None of this makes the schools do anything. It just offers up yogurt as part of the protein offerings they can make in schools.”

Children of unemployed workers could qualify for free school lunches

Children of unemployed Idaho workers may be eligible for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunches, and state and federal agencies are putting out the word. USDA Child Nutrition Division Director Cynthia Long said the food programs “can be a valuable resource for households affected by unemployment,” and the state Department of Labor noted that more than 66,000 Idahoans were out of work in August, up from fewer than 40,000 a year ago. Eligibility for the free and reduced-price meals is based on weekly household income; children in a family of four are eligible if that income is $785 or less.

Across the state, 45 percent of the school meals served to kids last year were free or reduced-price. “We expect to see that number increase as the economy is struggling,” said Heidi Martin, child nutrition programs coordinator for the state Department of Education. “We’re having schools telling us they’re getting more and more applications for their free and reduced program.” A few districts in the state already have very high percentages of their kids participating in the free and reduced-price program; in the Wilder school district, it’s 93 percent. Numbers in North Idaho’s biggest school districts are closer to the state average: 40 percent in Coeur d’Alene, 43 percent in the Lakeland school district, and 49 percent in Post Falls.

Though applications for free and reduced-price school meals are typically sent home at the beginning of the school year, the Department of Labor said unemployed workers can apply for the program at any time; they can contact their child’s school for more information.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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