WASHINGTON —Only 1 in 10 school districts nationwide (12 percent) has all the kitchen equipment needed to serve healthy foods, according to a new report issued by the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project. The report makes recommendations for how schools, policymakers, industry, and philanthropic partners can work together to make these investments and provide healthy, appealing foods more efficiently. It is the first national assessment of districts' kitchen equipment and infrastructure needs.
“Serving Healthy School Meals: U.S. schools need updated kitchen equipment,” finds that schools would be better able to serve meals that meet nutrition requirements if investments were made in new equipment. Most often, school districts reported needing equipment to receive and store fruits and vegetables, ranging from shelving to walk-in refrigerators and freezers.
In addition to conducting a survey, the project in July 2013 convened stakeholders from 31 states to discuss how schools could find the resources to update their kitchens and cafeterias to meet or exceed the updated nutrition standards. The group developed strategic approaches for financing equipment and infrastructure upgrades, including partnerships, sponsorship funding, and low-interest loans. The model approaches, many of which have been demonstrated by schools across the country, are detailed in “Serving Healthy School Meals: Financing strategies for school food service,” the summary of proceedings from the workshop which the project released today.
“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.”
Additional findings from the report indicate that:
In response to the report's findings and a series of specific suggestions discussed in the workshop proceedings, the project makes the following recommendations:
The new report is the second in a series released by the project examining school districts' ability to provide meals that meet updated national nutrition standards. To produce this series, the project commissioned Mathematica Policy Research, a nonpartisan research firm, to assess the challenges related to kitchen equipment, training, and infrastructure in a national survey of 3,372 school food service directors or their designees. The first report in this series, released in September 2013, found that school districts with inadequate equipment are making do with less-efficient processes, such as having daily—and more costly—deliveries of fresh produce instead of being able to store it on-site. Even with these challenges, 80 percent of school districts are meeting nutrition standards for lunches, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, the current temporary strategies may not be sustainable.
The federal government has taken steps to improve school kitchens. Today, USDA announced the distribution of funds that Congress appropriated for school food service equipment. Separately, the bipartisan School Food Modernization Act of 2013 would establish a loan and grant assistance program within USDA to help pay for school kitchen and dining area upgrades, new equipment, and training and technical assistance for school food service personnel.
“The grants made available today by USDA are a great example of how to address schools' needs,” said Donze Black. “It will require buy-in from schools, communities, and the government to make sure that they have the right tools to serve nutritious meals efficiently and effectively, but it is a goal worth achieving.”
The Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project provides nonpartisan analysis and evidence-based recommendations on policies that impact the safety and healthfulness of school foods. The project is a collaboration between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.