WASHINGTON — U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced several actions to expand support for and access to the school meal programs, including awarding $50 million in grants that will increase collaboration between schools, food producers and suppliers, and other partners to develop nutritious, appetizing school meals for kids. The department also announced $10 million in grants for schools to expand nutrition education, as well as a proposed regulatory change to give more schools the option to provide healthy school meals to all students at no cost.
These forward-thinking, innovative actions were all highlighted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at an event at Maplewood Elementary in Greeley, Colo. where he spoke with school and district leaders about how these USDA actions will benefit their communities.
“The Biden-Harris Administration believes that a healthier future for our country starts with our children,” said Vilsack. “Continuing to make school meals healthier and available to more students are some of the best ways we can help our children thrive early in life.”
As part of the USDA’s Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative, Vilsack announced that the department is awarding $50 million to the following organizations to manage the School Food System Transformation Challenge Sub-Grants:
- Boise State University
- Chef Ann Foundation
- Full Plates Full Potential
- Illinois Public Health Institute
These grants will foster innovation in the school food marketplace to get a wider variety of healthy, appealing foods into the marketplace and onto kids’ lunch trays. Schools and other eligible organizations can apply for the challenge sub-grants later this year and are encouraged to check the USDA’s Healthy Meals Incentives website for updates.
“USDA is taking a holistic approach to supporting school meal programs, which includes strengthening the food supply chain that supports them,” said Stacy Dean, deputy under secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. “We’re hopeful that these grants will accelerate and expand innovation in the school food marketplace, so that schools – and ultimately our children – have better access to healthier food products.”
Also today, USDA opened applications for up to $10 million in Fiscal Year 2023 Team Nutrition Grants, which support nutrition education for school-aged children. The grants will extend nutrition education efforts beyond the cafeteria, incorporating it into all parts of the school day and even enrichment activities outside of school. The resources also support another component of the Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative by helping school districts introduce additional nutritious menu options, and eventually qualify for a Recognition Award.
Secretary Vilsack also announced that the department is proposing a change that would give more schools the option to provide healthy school meals to all students at no cost. The rule would expand the number of schools eligible to opt into the Community Eligibility Provision, also known as CEP, which could result in more children receiving tasty, nutritious school meals.
“Many schools and even some entire states have successfully provided free meals to all their students,” said Vilsack. “We applaud their leadership in nourishing children and hope this proposed change will make it possible for more schools and states to follow suit.”
While the proposed rule does not increase federal funds for school meals, President Biden’s 2024 budget requests an additional $15 billion over 10 years to support schools participating in CEP and reach 9 million more children. Vilsack added, “Together, these actions are one of many efforts the Biden-Harris Administration and USDA are taking to ensure the federal government, states, and local schools are working together to support child health.”
FNS encourages all interested parties to comment on the CEP proposed rule during the 45-day comment period that begins tomorrow.
The announcements are part of USDA’s ongoing efforts to support schools and strengthen school meals to improve children’s health. They also build on commitments made in the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health:
- The expansion of CEP advances a pathway for healthy school meals to more students at no cost.
- The School Food System Transformation Challenge Grants unite the public and private sector in expanding healthier food options in the K-12 school food marketplace.
- The Team Nutrition Grants help schools expand nutrition education to students and introduce healthier food options into their meals.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate-smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean-energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit www.usda.gov.