School Food

Over the last 15 years, our nation’s children have become less healthy and are at higher risk for serious chronic health issues; ultimately leading to increased health care costs for all of us. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), children’s diets are of poor nutritional quality. They include too much salt and saturated fat, and too few fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. The White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, the IOM, the CDC and other public health groups have identified schools as a crucial setting in which to improve children’s diets.

Additionally, numerous reports have recently identified gaps in food-safety policies, potentially allowing unsafe food onto children’s lunch trays.  According to the CDC, 23,000 foodborne illnesses were caused by food served in U.S. schools between 1998 and 2007, a number that is likely underreported.  Studies have documented that schools may unknowingly receive and serve recalled food and that mandatory cafeteria inspections are sometimes skipped.

Pew and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation are working together on the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project to provide nonpartisan analysis and evidence-based recommendations to help ensure that (1) The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) adopts science-based nutrition standards for all foods and beverages served and sold in schools; (2) Schools have the resources they need to train cafeteria employees and replace outdated and broken kitchen equipment; and (3) USDA develops and implements rigorous school food safety policies.

For more information, visit the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project website.


  • Serving Healthy School Meals: Kitchen Equipment

    Dec 18, 2013 - This is the second in a series of reports that summarizes how schools are putting in place updated U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, meal standards and the challenges they must overcome to reach full implementation.

  • Serving Healthy School Meals: Despite Challenges, Schools Meet USDA Meal Requirements

    Sep 30, 2013 - This report presents findings about the challenges districts face in implementing the updated meal standards, when they expect to be able to meet the standards, and how they are finding solutions to meet the standards. Below are our key findings.

  • Pew's Back-to-School Nutrition Resource Guide

    Aug 09, 2013 - View Pew's "Back-to-School Nutrition Resource Guide" and find out how recent changes to snack food and beverage standards could mean healthier options in cafeteria's across the country. 

  • Calculating the Cost of School Lunches

    Feb 19, 2013 - Where does your middle school student's lunch money go? Imagine that you give your student $2.50 to buy a meal at school. A new interactive released by the Kids' Safe and Healthful Food Project shows the choices kids face everyday.

  • Video: School Meals Get Healthier: Students and Experts React

    Jan 28, 2013 - Standard Nutrition standards for school meals were last updated in January 2012—the first update since 1995. As a result, students are seeing more fruits, vegetables and whole grains on the menu, as well as less saturated fat and sodium. This video

  • School Food Success Stories

    Dec 20, 2012 - Schools across the country are making big changes in the cafeteria this year as a result of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s updated nutrition standards for school meals.

  • Infographic: Sizing Up Snack Foods

    Nov 01, 2012 - Research indicates that the majority of snack foods and beverages sold in schools are high in calories, fat and sugar. Do these snack foods meet national standards? View the infographic to find out.

  • Q&A: Seven Questions About the New Meal Standards

    Oct 09, 2012 - In school cafeterias across the country, students are seeing big changes on their lunch trays. The USDA recently approved new rules for the federal school lunch program, the first such changes to student lunches in more than a decade. Jessica Donze Black, Director of the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project, explains the benefits of the new guidelines.

  • Health Impact Assessment: National Nutrition Standards for Snack and a la Carte Foods and Beverages Sold in Schools

    Jun 26, 2012 - Updating national nutrition standards for snack foods and beverages sold in schools could help students maintain a healthy weight and increase food service revenue, according to a health impact assessment by the Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project and the Health Impact Project. The findings come as the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prepares to issue policies requiring that food and beverages sold outside of federal school meal programs meet minimum nutrition standards

  • Case Study: Replacing Deep-fat Fryers

    May 24, 2011 - The Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project conducted a pilot survey among food service directors in three states (Georgia, Kentucky and Wisconsin).

  • Case Study: Changing the Menu in Chicago

    May 23, 2011 - In an effort to improve the quality of foods served in its schools, Chicago Public Schools debuted new breakfast and lunch menus in the 2010-2011 school year that exceed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Healthier US School Challenge Gold standards.

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