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Helping Schools Build Better Cafeterias

Food service professionals from Arlington Public Schools discuss the day’s lunch service of Baja Fish Taco Wraps, Turkey Hot Dogs, Cherry Tomatoes w/dip, Baked Beans and Fresh Fruit for Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. The National School Lunch Program operates in public, nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions, providing nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

Food service professionals from Arlington Public Schools discuss the day’s lunch service of Baja Fish Taco Wraps, Turkey Hot Dogs, Cherry Tomatoes w/dip, Baked Beans and Fresh Fruit for Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Virginia. The National School Lunch Program operates in public, nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions, providing nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. USDA Photo by Bob Nichols.

As a former school nutrition director, I am amazed when I visit schools around the country and repeatedly witness students clamoring for items like baked kale chips—who would have ever thought that was possible?  Truly, schools have done an absolutely tremendous job of implementing the new meal standards resulting from the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. I am so proud of all that our nation’s school nutrition professionals have done to provide healthier, tasty meals to the millions of children who eat breakfast, lunch and snacks at school each day.

While schools have made—and continue to make—great strides across the whole realm of school nutrition, they are still facing challenges in meeting their goals.  In particular, many schools across the country do not have appropriate or adequate kitchen equipment.  The need for updated equipment is well-documented, most recently by a new Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project report entitled, “Serving Healthy Meals:  U.S. Schools Need Updated Kitchen Equipment,” and ranges from cutting boards to refrigerator space.  While some schools still need a significant investment in updated and upgraded equipment, many of the needs are simple and could cost as little as $32 to remedy!

That is why I am excited to announce that today, we are awarding $11 million in grants to 16 states and territories specifically to help schools purchase the food service equipment they need to make serving and preparing healthier meals easier and more efficient.  While $11 million cannot cover the full scope of needs nationwide, we know that it will make a significant positive impact and we will continue to work with school boards, administrators and staff to meet the needs of school nutrition professionals.

In addition to these equipment grants, USDA offers other forms of financial and technical assistance to help schools meet equipment, training and other needs.  Learn more.

Schools in the 16 selected states and territories that are interested in applying for these grants should contact their state agency for further information.  A list of state agency contacts is available here.

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