The Biden-Harris Administration today provided $50 million in grants for schools to invest in new food service equipment, adding to the $30 million in equipment grants that it gave schools earlier this year. This announcement comes as USDA joins the child nutrition community to celebrate National School Lunch Week Oct. 10-14, which is intended 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 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 in a statement accompanying announcement of the most recent equipment grants. “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.”
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; and improving food safety. Districts from across the country have already benefitted from previous grants.
“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,” observes Deborah Carpenter, child nutrition executive director for Hoke County Schools in North Carolina. “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.”
Meanwhile the Iowa-Grant School District in Wisconsin has been able to do more scratch cooking thanks to the grants, says Barbara Hugill, food service supervisor at Iowa-Grant High School. “We replaced a 63-year-old dishwasher with a new, more efficient dishwasher that allows more time for food preparation,” she notes. “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.”
Boyne Falls Public School in Michigan can now prepare local produce with a new steamer bought with the grants. “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!” enthuses Chef Nathan Bates. “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.”