For the third consecutive year, Congress and President Barack Obama have approved funding for schools to purchase kitchen equipment that will enhance their ability to serve safe and healthy meals. The $1.1 trillion spending bill enacted this month, which funds most government agencies through September 2015, includes $25 million for kitchen equipment grants that will be distributed to schools by state authorities.
Research by the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project shows that nearly 9 in 10 school districts across the country need at least one piece of kitchen equipment, ranging from serving utensils to walk-in refrigerators, to help them serve healthy meals. The equipment purchased with the federal grants assists schools in meeting the strong national nutrition standards for meals and snacks sold to students. The standards require, for example, that each lunch include a serving of fruits or vegetables, yet some schools lack the equipment to efficiently store and prepare large amounts of fresh produce.
The spending bill also loosens some of the recent updates to the school nutrition standards. One provision relaxes a requirement that all grain products served to students be rich in whole grains. Schools that can demonstrate hardship in complying with this rule will be able to seek permission from state authorities to serve fewer whole-grain-rich products while continuing to collect the additional federal reimbursement tied to meeting the standards.
The school meal standards call for a gradual decrease in sodium content over 10 years. The first phase of that reduction, known as Target 1, took effect during this school year. The next planned reduction, known as Target 2, had been scheduled to take effect in the 2017-18 school year, but the new spending bill prevents the U.S. Department of Agriculture from moving toward Target 2 until further research shows that it would be beneficial for children.
The final spending bill did not include a much more drastic rollback of nutrition standards—first proposed in a House appropriations bill earlier this year—that would have allowed schools to opt out of the standards entirely for one year if they experienced financial difficulty. That change would have waived rules such as the requirement that they serve fruits or vegetables with every lunch—a standard that 91 percent of parents nationwide support.
All of these issues are likely to be debated in 2015, when Congress may take up reauthorization of child nutrition programs.
Learn more about how the federal spending package affects school nutrition.