We recently spoke with Ron Adams, food service director for Portland Public Schools, about efforts to incorporate local food into the menu and the emphasis on nutrition. Adams, who has worked in Portland for six years, has also worked in the Gorham and Yarmouth school systems.

How many meals do you serve each day?

More than 7,100 breakfast, lunch and snacks at 23 locations.

What are the costs and how many students are eligible for free or reduced lunches?

Lunch prices are $2.50 for K-5 and $2.75 for 6-12. Breakfast costs $1.50. In Portland 54 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

What are your long-term goals?

We are trying to get closer to the break-even point for our meals. To do that, we need to increase the number of students eating our meals from 52 to 60 percent.

We also want to offer free breakfasts in all of our schools. We currently serve free breakfasts at nine schools. We want to expand that. A good breakfast really helps get kids ready to learn.

What changes have you seen over the years?

The emphasis on nutrition and local sourcing compared to an emphasis on revenue.

Recent federal guidelines have emphasized healthy menus. How has that played out in Portland?

We have worked very hard to make meals more nutritious and balanced. A lot of the kids would like to have chicken nuggets everyday, but that’s not healthy. We are really building our meals around nutrition. We now offer salad bars and feature more whole grains. We work hard to cook healthy food that kids like to eat, which can sometimes be a challenge.

What is happening with local foods?

We source locally whenever possible. In fact each Thursday we feature a Maine Harvest Lunch. (Harvest lunches include such local dishes as chicken drumsticks, redfish, ground beef, rutabaga sticks, blueberries, Daikon radish, kohlrabi and apples.)

Right now 36 percent of the food we serve is local, which we define as within 275 miles. We serve local fruit and vegetables, meat, and chicken. And we are now getting fish from Portland-based Salt and Sea.

A recent USDA Farm to School grant helped us obtain equipment (such as a processing sink and industrial-sized peeler) to process local foods, which can be frozen for use in the winter. We are serving local food throughout the year. For example, this week we are making marinara sauce from local tomatoes and vegetables. Right now, we are cooking a 65-gallon batch.

What about other sustainability efforts?

We are now using serving entrees in individual, compostable containers to reduce waste. In the new facility we have a dishwasher that allows us to use reusable trays instead of polystyrene disposable trays. We also use a local composting service with district wide cafeteria waste separation.

Are you seeing hunger issues in the schools?

This is always a concern. We make it as easy as possible to access our meals and to help there is a food pantry and a backpack program. We are always trying to get the word out to address hunger through school meals.