Schools needing additional or upgraded equipment to properly prepare and serve lunches according to new national standards will receive $25 million in grants to help purchase those infrastructure additions, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday.
While more than 90% of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards, 88% of school districts in the U.S. need at least one additional piece of kitchen equipment and 55% need infrastructure upgrades to serve healthier meals that meet science-based nutrition standards, according to a December study by the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project – a collaboration with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The report further estimates that to serve healthy foods, schools need equipment with a median per-district cost of $131,000. There was a wide range in the cost of different pieces, it found; the five most-needed items are priced from $32 for serving utensils to $1,941 for large-capacity food processors.
The new requirements stipulate that schools serve meals with more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, and less sodium and fat. These new grants provide additional support to schools to help them prepare meals that meet those standards, USDA says.
"We know that there is still a significant unmet need for kitchen equipment in schools, and outdated equipment can make it more difficult to prepare healthy meals," Vilsack said. "With these grants, schools will be able to get the tools they need to make the healthy choice the easy choice for America's youngsters."
In December, USDA awarded $11 million in similar grants to the District of Columbia, Guam and 14 states. For the latest round of funding, USDA will ensure all State agencies receive a proportional share of the funding.
States will competitively award the funds to school districts to purchase needed equipment, giving priority to high-need schools where 50% or more of the enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced price meals.