Global Agriculture

Biden-Harris Administration Invests $80 Million to Improve Nutrition in School Meals

12 October 2022, US: The Biden-Harris Administration today provided $50 million in grants for schools to invest in new food service equipment that will allow them to continue serving nutritious meals. Today’s funding adds to the $30 million in equipment grants that the administration gave schools earlier this year. This announcement comes as USDA stands with partners and advocates in the child nutrition community to celebrate National School Lunch Week (October 10-14), a time to recognize the critical nutrition that school meals provide to tens of millions of children every school day.

The added support for school meals and child nutrition builds on the momentum from last month’s White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health, where the administration unveiled a National Strategy to end hunger and reduce diet-related disease by 2030.

“Ensuring access to nutritious school meals is one of the best investments we can make in our fight to end child hunger and improve health,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “As we celebrate the valiant efforts of school nutrition professionals across the country this National School Lunch Week, USDA is doubling down on our commitment to helping schools overcome challenges including higher food prices and continued supply chain disruptions. These additional resources will allow schools to provide healthy, appealing meals by meeting vital food service equipment needs.”

USDA provides grant funds to states (see: state-by-state breakdown), which use a competitive application process to award them to school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program. School districts can use the funds to purchase upgraded equipment that will support:

  • Serving healthier meals, including those sourced from local foods;
  • Implementing scratch cooking;
  • Establishing or expanding school breakfast;
  • Storing fresh food;
  • Improving food safety.

Here are a few testimonials about how the equipment grants have improved food service for school districts around the country:

  • Better Food Preparation and Visually Appealing Meals (Hoke County Schools, Raeford, North Carolina) – “The grant has afforded us the opportunity to purchase new and updated equipment for our school kitchens. Students eat with their eyes and when the food looks good, they eat more. We purchased warming cabinets and reach-in refrigerators for our middle and high schools to put behind our serving lines, which has helped with serving our complex menu items. We have increased our participation at these schools because students do not have to wait long for their meals. The equipment that has really assisted our program the past two years have been Blast Chillers, which allow us to quickly cool down our foods. The ultimate goal for Hoke County Schools is to provide the highest quality menu food items to all students and with this equipment, we are able to accomplish this goal.” – Deborah Carpenter, child nutrition executive director, Hoke County Schools
  • More Scratch Cooking Thanks to New Dishwasher (Iowa-Grant School District, Livingston, Wisconsin) – “We replaced a 63-year-old dishwasher with a new, more efficient dishwasher that allows more time for food preparation. We have increased scratch cooking in our kitchen, which in turn increases the number of dishes we wash. Now, we can prepare foods like homemade granola for breakfast and cheesy broccoli soup for lunch – we would never have done that in the past. The new dishwasher is crucial to allowing the time and dishwashing capacity we need to continue increasing the amount of fresh meals we cook in our kitchen.” – Barbara Hugill, Food Service Supervisor, Iowa-Grant High School
  • Prepare Local Produce with Steamers (Boyne Falls Public School, Boyne Falls, Michigan) – “We were able to use our funds to purchase a new steamer for our kitchen. Since the installation, we have been able to provide a variety of locally sourced vegetables in the most appealing and healthy way possible, including beets, string beans, brussels sprouts! The kids have been happy to see these types of veggies because of how fresh and vibrant the veggies look. Additionally, it is a much easier and efficient process because we do not have to blanch the vegetables in large, heavy pots of boiling water and transfer around the kitchen. That was a process that could take up to an hour; now, we are getting better results in ten minutes! At the end of the day, we need to prepare in large batches with little labor. This equipment has fit the bill perfectly and we are grateful for it.” – Nathan Bates, Chef, Boyne Falls Public School

These grants are only the latest in a series of efforts the Biden-Harris Administration has taken to financially support school meals and ensure our nation’s children are nutritionally secure. Last month, USDA launched the first phase of a $100 million Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative, which will award grants for small and rural schools to improve their meal quality. The request for applications is open to all nongovernmental organizations through Nov. 28, 2022. Later this year, FNS will announce the second and final phase of the initiative that will expand nutritious food options for school meals through collaboration with food industry partners.

Here’s a snapshot of the investments USDA had made in school meals for the 2022-2023 school year.

The administration is also investing in child nutrition more broadly. Last month, USDA issued a final rule that improves children’s access to USDA’s Summer Food Service Program through streamlining and strengthening program operations. USDA also approved families of nearly 33 million children to receive summertime child food benefits of $391 per child for summer 2022, with higher amounts in Alaska, Hawaii, and U.S. territories. These benefits through the Summer P-EBT program are helping families cover food costs from the summer months when schools was out of session.

This announcement is part of the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health. The National Strategy provides a roadmap of actions the federal government will take to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases by 2030 – all while reducing disparities. The National Strategy was released in conjunction with the first White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in over 50 years, hosted by President Biden on September 28, 2022.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, promoting competition and fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. 

Also Read: Indian farmers are using less agrochemicals shows data for FY2021-22

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