A Push for Healthy School Meals

The hustle and bustle of the school year is now underway for some and will soon be for others. Also keeping school officials and school nutrition experts and personnel busy this time of year: making sure students have healthy meals. To that end, this recent announcement of healthy meal incentives that Agriculture Deputy Secretary Xochitl Torres Small describes as a partnership between USDA Food and Nutrition Service and the national nonprofit organization Action for Healthy Kids to provide funding support in modernizing School Meal infrastructure and improving school meal nutritional quality. What might this look like at the cafeteria level? I’m Rod Bane. Coming up, a look at an initiative to increase healthy school meals in this edition of Agriculture USA

The familiar selves of school hallways, students traveling from class to class, and a reminder that the school year is or will soon be underway. Also busy this time of year school nutrition personnel as agriculture Deputy Secretary of Xochitl Torres Small recently noted these school administrators and employees face various challenges in providing quality and nutritious meals such as…

For instance we had schools that didn’t have a commercial kitchen, so they had to figure out how to receive entire full meals from a contracting entity in order to make sure their kids had a good healthy school meal. We’ve also seen the challenges when it comes to the supply chain making sure that they have a reliability when it comes to food, and particularly in rural places when you’ve got a smaller population and lower student size, it becomes even more difficult to be able to pull together the funds to have an operating kitchen that has all of the necessities to make sure that meal can be as healthy as possible.

Where this becomes increasingly important is in studies that show the correlation of value between school meals and the health of students that consume them.

Every day, almost 30 million children eat a school meal, and what research tells us is that that’s typically the healthiest meal so that child will eat that day. So it’s important in this moment that we have to make sure that kids get healthy meal that will help them during this formative time to be able to learn at their best and also grow into healthy adults.

That is what led to the establishment of the Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative, a federal effort involving collaboration …

…which in partnership with USDA and Action for Healthy Kids is awarded nearly $30 million in grants to 264 school districts across 44 states as well as the District of Columbia reaching students in some of our country’s highest needs schools and specifically focusing on small and rural school districts.

USDA Food and Nutrition Service allocates grant funding with Action for Healthy Kids are managing the grant selection process. The organization’s CEO Rob Bisceglie explains.

The response to the Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative has been overwhelmingly positive. We received more than 600 applications from school districts all across the United States and we’re just thrilled with the quality of the proposed projects and the applicants for those projects. Through the HMI grants small and rural school districts will be able to modernize their operations and provide more nutritious meals that appeal to students while increasing culturally relevant foods in their communities.

An example of how grants are utilized comes from the superintendent of one of the recipient schools This is David Edison of the Aquila, Texas Independent School District.

In our cafeteria, we have a shortage of up-to-date serving the equipment. The purpose of this grant is to help us establish another line in our cafeteria. Currently our kids are given an option of one hot meal. We would like to increase that to two hot meals. On top of that, we’re going to be able to get some equipment that will better help us bring in fresh food refrigeration that will keep our fruits alive and fresher over time as well as a steam table to provide fresh vegetables.

Rob Bisceglie adds that beyond the grants themselves, Action for Healthy Kids, staff and partners will…

…provide in-depth trainings and individualized technical assistance to support and guide the implementation of key strategies to improve school meal quality, and Action for Healthy Kids and its partners will also help school food authorities develop creative solutions to provide nutritious foods for the children they serve. Perhaps equally importantly, we will work to make sure that successful solutions to common problems are broadly shared throughout our network to support school districts nationwide.

More details about the Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative can be found online at  This has been Agriculture USA. Rod Bane reporting for the US Department of Agriculture in Washington, DC