Farm to School Grant Programs Increase Local Foods in Cafeterias

Farm to School Grant Programs Increase Local Foods in Cafeterias
Image: Pexels
September 11, 2015

School lunches are helping more kids eat local.

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) a federally funded grant program has helped 12,300 schools improve their meal options by using local ingredients. Partnerships with local farms has also expanded market opportunities for family farmers and ranchers in the school's community.

Established and funded through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the USDA's Farm to School Grant Program has impacted 6.9 million students across the country. According to the USDA, recent studies published in Childhood Obesity and Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior suggest that strong farm to school programs can impact how much fruit and vegetables students eat, leading to a decrease in food waste.

The program during the past three years, has funded more than 220 grants in 49 states, Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Half of the funded projects included expanding healthy menu options offered in the cafeteria. Forty-six percent included training for food service staff about menu planning, meal preparation, and cooking with local and regional foods, and 65 percent included nutrition education activities.

A significant portion of the grants, 40 percent, were awarded to rural schools or districts and 38 of the grants were distributed in StikeForce states and territories to address challenges associated with rural poverty.

Overall, there are more than 40,300 schools that have farm to school programs. A USDA study released in 2014 found that farm to school programs purchased and served more than $385 million in local food during the 2011-2012 school year. More than half the schools planned to increase the purchases of local foods in the future. An updated report is due this fall.

The increase in fresh meats and produce is a result from revised nutritional standards released in 2010. Schools were required to increase their produce and whole grains offerings, while decreasing the use of salt.

The new standards remain controversial as the cafeteria industry cites increase cost and food waste, but nevertheless, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that most schools have implemented most of the new nutritional requirements.

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