Report: Schools need more equipment to serve healthier meals

By Aarian Marshall

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, March 21, 2014 - A new report from the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project shows 86 percent of schools are serving lunches that meet federal nutrition standards - but many will need better kitchen equipment to continue their work.

Lets Talk Food

The project, a collaboration of the  Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, found that 88 percent of the school food authorities surveyed reported needing one or more pieces of equipment to help them meet today's school lunch standards. More than half said they need kitchen infrastructure changes at one or more schools to meet the requirements.

“Although a vast majority of schools want to serve healthier meals…many were [making do] with work-arounds that were unsustainable and unhealthy,” Jessica Donze Black, director of the project, told reporters during a media call Thursday.

The report found that schools struggle most with adding fresh fruits and vegetables to their daily menus. About a quarter to a third of school food authorities said the equipment in their kitchens “is inadequate” to make federally required changes, according to the project.

Donze Black said some authorities had to increase the number of produce shipments per week, for example, because they did not have the refrigerator room to accommodate the fruits and vegetables needed to meet federal standards. More shipments often mean authorities must shell out more money for produce.

According to the report, the necessary upgrades won't be cheap. Authorities reported they would need an average $68,700 per school. That adds up to just under $1 billion nationwide.

But USDA says it's working on obtaining the funds to allow schools to make equipment upgrades.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters today that USDA would also make available $25 million later this spring for that purpose. In addition, President Barack Obama's proposed budget, released earlier this month, asks Congress for $35 million in school equipment grants “to aid in the provision of healthy meals.”

Vilsack also announced that department would make available $40 million in grants to conduct and evaluate demonstration projects aimed at ending childhood hunger.

The grants, furnished through 2010's Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFK), could be used to address school lunch nutrition, but could also enhance Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for households with children, fund afterschool snack programs, or create emergency housing options for in-need families.

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