A new research study says school districts across the U.S. need updated cafeteria equipment to serve healthier foods to students, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture is stepping up with grants to do just that.
The Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project, a collaboration between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released a report called “Serving Healthy School Meals: U.S. Schools Need Updated Kitchen Equipment.” That report found that 88% of school food authorities needed one or more pieces of equipment to help them meet the current lunch standards.
The same day the Pew report was released, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it will award $11 million in grants to help schools purchase cafeteria equipment needed to serve and prepare healthier meals. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release that the grants will help support nutritious meals and expand participation in the school lunch program.
Fourteen states, the District of Columbia and Guam were selected to receive grants based on free- and reduced-price participation in the National School Lunch Program and the most pressing needs of the schools. States selected for the grants are Arkansas, California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, according to the release. School districts within each state will be awarded the funds, with priority given to schools serving a higher percentage of low income children, according to the release.
The Pew report also found that only 42% of school food authorities reported having a budget to purchase capital equipment, and less than half of that number expected the budget to be adequate to meet their needs. Finally, the study found that 55% of school food authorities need kitchen infrastructure changes at one or more schools to meet the lunch requirements.
The project study recommends:
- School officials should work together with parents, teachers and others to settle on strategies to acquire equipment, infrastructure, and training needs;
- Federal, state, and local governments should put a priority on making funds available to help schools upgrade their kitchen equipment;
- Nonprofit and for-profit organizations interested in helping improve children’s health and education should help schools get the equipment.
While applauding the USDA grants, United Fresh Produce Association president Tom Stenzel said in a news release that the Pew report illustrates what he called a “critical gap” in the equipment available to properly store and handle fresh produce.
Stenzel said United Fresh supported the congressional allocation of $100 million for school cafeteria equipment in the 2009 stimulus package, and also has secured private sector and foundation grant support to provide salad bars to nearly 2,800 schools in the U.S., through the United Fresh Let’s Move Salad Bars to School initiative. More of the same is needed for the future, Stenzel said.
“We urge companies and foundations to help schools nationwide upgrade their cafeteria equipment and infrastructure to make it easier for schools to serve more healthful meals, including more fresh fruits and vegetables,” he said in the release.