We all want to see our children have access to healthier meals. And much can be said about the innovations needed to make those healthy meals a reality – from the right kind of marketing of healthy foods to kids to how healthier foods are displayed in cafeteria settings to the use of healthier ingredients in preparing school meals.
A recent report issued by the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Food Project, in partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, sheds new light on the need that many school districts have for updated food preparation equipment and infrastructure.
The report found that only one in 10 school districts nationwide has all the kitchen equipment needed to serve healthy foods. A full 88% of school food authorities needed one or more pieces of equipment just to help them meet the current lunch standards. Equipment and infrastructure needs range from large capacity food processors to utility carts and additional space for storage, preparation and serving of healthy foods.
“Having the right tools could help schools more efficiently serve students nutritious, appealing meals that they will enjoy,” said Jessica Donze Black, director of the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project. “We identified strategies that can help schools across the country get the equipment and infrastructure needed to serve healthy foods.”
The report makes the following recommendations:
- School officials and local policymakers should work collaboratively with parents, teachers, students, and funders to identify and implement strategies for meeting equipment, infrastructure, and training needs.
- Federal, state, and local governments should place a priority on making funds available to help schools upgrade their kitchen equipment and infrastructure to efficiently serve healthy and appealing meals.
- Nonprofit and for-profit organizations that have an interest in improving children’s health, education, school infrastructure, and community wellness should assist schools in acquiring the necessary equipment.
USDA to award grants for new school food service equipment
The same day the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Food Project report was released, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued an announcement that it would be awarding $11 million in grants to help schools purchase cafeteria equipment needed to serve and prepare healthier meals.
The USDA’s announcement acknowledged that while most schools need additional resources to upgrade cafeteria equipment, the equipment itself is not necessarily expensive or out of reach—estimated costs for top five needed items ranged from $32 to $1,941. The new grants are intended to provide additional resources to support schools in their efforts to serve healthier meals to students.
Fourteen states, as well as 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 greatest unmet need. Those states are Arkansas, California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.
States will competitively award the funds to school districts to purchase needed equipment, with priority given to districts serving a high percentage of low-income children.
Read more about the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Food Project and the USDA grant.
Read the USDA’s press release announcing grants for school cafeteria equipment.