Other Resource

The School Food Modernization Act


Learn more about H.R. 1783American children spend more time in school than anywhere outside of their homes, and many of the choices they make there will influence their health over a lifetime. During the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in the United States have tripled. Today, more than 23 million adolescents and children—nearly one in three young people nationwide—are either obese or overweight, placing them at increased risk for serious, lifelong diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and stroke.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, recently updated nutrition standards for school meals to align them with the most up-to-date science. As a result, schools are serving more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or no-fat dairy options while offering fewer high-fat options and excess calories.

Related Resources:

Although the new policies are moving schools in the right direction, many school kitchens were built decades ago and designed with little capacity beyond reheating and holding food for dining service. Many of these facilities lack the basic tools necessary to prepare wholesome food for students. To fully comply with the new standards and efficiently prepare and serve food that is both healthy and appealing, school and food service administrators will need to replace outdated equipment and train cafeteria staff on the proper preparation of safe, nutritious, and delicious meals.

To address this vital challenge, U.S. Representatives Tom Latham (R-IA) and Mike McIntyre (D-NC) introduced bipartisan legislation, H.R. 1783, the School Food Modernization Act, or SFMA, which will:

  • Establish a loan assistance program within USDA to help schools acquire new equipment to prepare and serve healthier, more nutritious meals to students. School administrators and other eligible borrowers can obtain federal guarantees for 90 percent of the loan value needed to construct, remodel, or expand their kitchens, dining, or food storage infrastructure.
  • Provide targeted grant assistance to give school administrators and food service directors the catalyst funding they need for smaller projects to upgrade kitchen infrastructure or to purchase high-quality, durable kitchen equipment such as commercial ovens, steamers, and stoves.
  • Strengthen training and provide technical assistance to aid school food service personnel in meeting the updated nutrition guidelines. Not every school food service employee is equipped with the expertise to comply with healthier meal and food preparation standards. The proposed legislation authorizes USDA to provide support on a competitive basis to highly qualified third-party trainers to develop and administer training and technical assistance.


INVESTING IN SCHOOL KITCHENS CAN MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE


  Read Pew's statement on SFMA Two recent examples illustrate the strong arguments for targeted investments in new kitchen equipment.

MISSISSIPPI
Already a national leader in school nutrition standards, in 2009 Mississippi schools engaged in a statewide obesity prevention campaign and received $1.7 million in federal funds to purchase kitchen equipment. Under the leadership of then-Governor Haley Barbour and the Governor’s  Task Force on Childhood Obesity, the Healthy Kids, Healthy Mississippi initiative identified a wide range of policy options to help state leaders improve child health and to reduce obesity in Mississippi, ranking school kitchen equipment upgrades among the top three priorities for action.

Replacing deep-fat fryers with combination oven steamers has enabled schools to serve baked chicken tenders and whole-grain rolls as an alternative to fried chicken and other higher-fat foods. Such changes have resulted in a significant reduction in the calories and saturated fat in school meals, and the healthier baked products received an overwhelmingly positive response from students and staff. These changes may be paying off. Recent data suggests that rates of childhood obesity in Mississippi have started to decline.

MADISON, WI
The Whole Kids Foundation, a charitable arm of grocery store chain Whole Foods Market, recently donated 15 salad bars to Madison, WI-area elementary schools, a small investment that school administrators highly value. Steve Youngbauer, director of food services for the Madison Metropolitan School District, said, “Offering a salad bar option for students may be the most impactful change that school districts can make within a child nutrition program.” The schools appreciate the healthier choices, but adding salad bars is not without cost to the district.

According to news reports, most Madison schools lack adequate kitchen infrastructure to fully support the fresh-prep salad bars. They may not have the appropriate refrigeration for fresh vegetables or regulation sinks to wash tongs and trays. Targeted, competitive federal grant funding is still needed to fully modernize kitchens and cafeterias to help school districts meet USDA’s updated nutritional standards for school meals and to ultimately help schools and parents improve kids’ health.


The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems. Pew applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. Learn more at www.pewhealth.org.

 

Date added:
Jul 18, 2013

Related Resources

Pew Commends Senators Collins and Heitkamp for Supporting Healthy School Foods

Other Resource
Jessica Donze Black, an expert with The Pew Charitable Trust’s initiative on child nutrition, issued the following statement on the School Food Modernization Act. More

States Need Updated School Kitchen Equipment

Other Resource
Eighty-six percent of schools in the United States are serving healthy lunches, but many could do so more effectively with updated equipment and infrastructure. Without the right tools, districts rely on workarounds that are expensive, inefficient, and unsustainable. Investing in kitchens and cafeterias could help schools better serve the nutritious foods and beverages that students need. More

National Nutrition Month Facts

Other Resource

March is National Nutrition Month, a time to focus new energy on giving kids healthy food options throughout the school day. Students consume up to half of their daily calories in school, so access to wholesome meals and snacks is important to their overall health. In fact, research shows that students living in states with strong nutrition laws gain less weight than those in states without such policies.

More

Education Week: Grants to Rehab School Kitchens Included in Obama's Budget Proposal

Media Coverage
About 88 percent of 3,459 food-service directors recently surveyed by Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said they needed additional equipment to adequately prepare meals. More

Bloomberg: Researchers On Free & Reduced Lunch, The Opportunity Gap

Media Coverage
Jessica Donze Black, director of the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project, joins host Jane Stoddard Williams to discuss the National School Lunch Program that provides low-cost or free lunches to children. More

Civil Eats: State of the Tray: Will Recent Improvements in School Food be Rolled Back?

Media Coverage

Jessica Donze Black, director for the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project, calls the modification change a “pragmatic and scientifically sound decision,” and San Francisco-based school food reformer Dana Woldow agrees: “[The calorie caps] will automatically limit the amount of potentially fatty protein and grains going into the meals. I think the days of seeing giant cheeseburgers the size of your head in school cafeterias may be over.”

More

NEAToday: Aging School Kitchens Undermine Healthy Meal Preparation

Media Coverage

It was food delivery day at Glen Landing Middle School in Blackwood, New Jersey, and the 42-year-old walk-in freezer went kaput. Again.

More

The State of School Nutrition

Other Resource
Kids consume up to 50 percent of their daily calories at school, so access to healthy meals and snacks is important to their overall health. This is especially true for the 21.5 million students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals and rely on food served in school to meet their nutritional needs. More

Serving Healthier Meals: California Schools Need Updated Kitchen Equipment

Other Resource
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. More

Serving Healthy School Meals: Kitchen Tools Matter

How do you store extra servings of fruits and vegetables so schools can serve students the healthy foods they need to learn? Two school food service experts outline the importance of school kitchen equipment so that personnel have the right tool for the right job. More

Serving Healthy School Meals: Presentation Matters

Kids eat with their eyes, just like adults. Two school food service experts explain why presentation and equipment play important roles in getting kids to eat healthy foods. More

Serving Healthy School Meals: Kitchen Equipment

This is the second in a series of reports that summarizes how schools are putting in place updated U.S. Department of Agriculture, or USDA, meal standards and the challenges they must overcome to reach full implementation.

More

What Does a School Kitchen Need?

Data Visualization
Schools across the country are serving healthy meals, but many could do so more effectively with updated equipment and
infrastructure. More

Serving Healthy School Meals: Kitchen Equipment

Other Resource

Schools would be better able to serve healthy, appealing meals if investments were made in new kitchen equipment and infrastructure.

More

Report Finds That School Kitchens Need Significant Upgrades

Press Release

Only 1 in 10 school districts nationwide (12 percent) has all the kitchen equipment needed to serve healthy foods, according to a new report issued by the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project. The report makes recommendations for how schools, policymakers, industry, and philanthropic partners can work together to make these investments and provide healthy, appealing foods more efficiently. It is the first national assessment of districts’ kitchen equipment and infrastructure needs.

More