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October 12, 2022
The Biden-Harris Administration announced this week $50 million in grants for schools to invest in new food service equipment that will allow them to continue serving nutritious meals. The 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, 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, 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.
Equipment grants have already begun improving food service for school districts around the country.
Deborah Carpenter, child nutrition executive director of Hoke County Schools in Raeford, North Carolina, said the grant has afforded the opportunity to purchase new and updated equipment for its 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.
She continued, “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.”
Barbara Hugill, food service supervisor at Iowa-Grant School District in Livingston, Wisconsin, said they used the money to replace 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,” Hugill said.
The 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.
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.
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