The majority of public schools in California are serving meals that meet updated, healthier nutrition standards. To do so, half of the state's districts are cooking more meals from scratch. Scratch cooking can be challenging for schools—particularly those in older buildings—without the right kitchen tools for efficient preparation of healthy foods.
California is not alone. The Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project, a collaboration between The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, recently published a study indicating that school districts across the country need updated kitchen equipment and infrastructure, and additional training for food service personnel, to better serve healthy meals.
The greatest equipment challenge facing California's school kitchens is the lack of tools to store and serve greater amounts and varieties of fruits and vegetables, according to an assessment conducted by the project and The California Endowment. Equipment such as large-scale slicers for fruits and vegetables and refrigerated storage to hold more fresh foods would help schools prepare more nutritious meals for children and reduce costs. School food service directors currently make do with less efficient practices, such as manually chopping or slicing fruits and vegetables, and relying on more expensive daily—instead of weekly—deliveries of fresh produce. In addition, training for basic nutrition and cooking skills was a reported need for at least half of school cooks or frontline staff.
Despite these hurdles, most public schools in California and nationwide are meeting healthier nutrition standards. Better kitchen equipment and training would help districts achieve this goal more efficiently and effectively. The Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project recommends:
Federal, state, and local governments should place a priority on making funds available to help schools upgrade their kitchen equipment and infrastructure to efficiently serve healthy and appealing meals.
School officials and local policymakers should work collaboratively with parents, teachers, students, and funders to identify and implement strategies for meeting equipment, infrastructure, and training needs.
Nonprofit and for-profit organizations that have an interest in improving children's health, education, school infrastructure, and community wellness should assist schools in acquiring the necessary equipment.
For more information, see:
Reports in our “Serving Healthy School Meals” series: