Dairy industry, USDA provide $35m for healthier meals

New grants will improve foodservice equipment and upgrade infrastructure critical to building healthy schools.

Amid pre-Super Bowl 50 celebrations Friday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Paul Rovey, dairy farmer and leader of the National Dairy Council (NDC), announced funding of $35 million in grants to help schools nationwide upgrade their kitchen equipment and infrastructure to help provide students better access to healthy foods, including dairy.

More than 30 million students – or three out of every five – rely on school meals once or twice a day. However, according to a 2014 Pew Charitable Trusts survey, 88% of schools reported lacking at least one piece of equipment they needed in order to serve healthier foods.

“These grants will go far in helping thousands of schools that face a daily reality that students often arrive hungry, which impacts their ability to learn,” said Paul Rovey, Arizona dairy farmer and chairman of Dairy Management Inc., which manages the national dairy checkoff. “This partnership between Fuel Up to Play 60 and (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) really helps create meaningful changes in the lives of children by making it easier to offer healthy school meals.”

Fuel Up to Play 60 has become the nation’s most effective program of its kind by reaching students in 73,000 schools. It was created by dairy farmers and the National Football League, with support from USDA, to foster the next generation of healthy, high-achieving youth.

Since 2008, when Fuel Up to Play 60 began, 13 million students are making better food choices and 16 million students are getting more physically active during the school day.

Since 2009, USDA has awarded $215 million in school nutrition equipment grants, including $30 million this year. Fuel Up to Play 60, which has provided more than $22 million in funds to schools, is providing $5 million.

“Success at all ages begins with a healthy meal, and that is why, at USDA, we have worked to overhaul school meal standards to ensure kids have access to nutritious foods,” Vilsack said. “This commitment from our partners will ensure schools have the equipment they need to provide kids with a well-balanced meal, promoting childhood health and wellness.

“We applaud our Fuel Up to Play 60 partners for their continued commitment to child nutrition. This collaboration enables us to expand our efforts and have a broader positive impact on our youth,” he added.

Schools can apply for USDA funding through their state or for funds directly from Fuel Up through the organization's website. In both cases, funding will support the purchase of new equipment and/or the renovation/replacement of equipment. Equipment may include large and small items such as utility carts, utensils, large-capacity food processors, industrial scales, steamers, freezers, etc. Infrastructure elements may include building needs related to physical space, electricity, plumbing, ventilation and other remodeling needs.

Schools that are interested in learning more about these grants should visit www.fns.usda.gov/nslp-equipment-assistance-grants.

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