Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Sept. 8 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will be awarding over $8 million in grants to help school nutrition professionals better prepare healthy meals for their students. Approximately $2.6 million dollars in grants will support implementation of new national professional standards for all school nutrition employees who manage and operate the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, and $5.6 million will go to help states expand and enhance food service training programs and provide nutrition education in school, child care, and summer meal settings.
“For the past three years, kids have eaten healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school thanks to the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which made the first meaningful improvements to the nutrition of foods and beverages served in cafeterias and sold in vending machines in 30 years. Nearly all schools are successfully meeting the standards, and these grants part of our ongoing commitment to give states and schools the additional resources they need,” said Vilsack. “Parents, teachers, principals, and school nutrition professionals want the best for their children. Together we can make sure we’re giving our kids the healthy start in life they deserve.”
In February, USDA announced national professional standards for school nutrition employees that went into effect on July 1, 2015. These standards, which vary according to position and job requirements, ensure that school nutrition professionals have the training and skills they need to plan, prepare, purchase, and promote healthy meals. In addition to several built-in flexibilities intended to facilitate the first year of implementation and address the challenges faced by smaller school districts, USDA is providing a total of $2.6 million to 19 state agencies to develop and enhance existing trainings within their state that will allow school nutrition professionals to meet these standards. The Professional Standards Training Grants promote training in nutrition; operations; administration; and communications and marketing.
In addition, 19 states received a 2015 Team Nutrition Training Grant of up to $350,000 – $5.6 million in total – to support trainings that focus on encouraging healthy eating. Those efforts could include:
- using Smarter Lunchrooms strategies that use principles from behavioral economics to encourage healthy choices,
- meeting meal pattern requirements for school meals,
- delivering interactive nutrition education activities, and
- providing schools and child care providers with technical assistance to create and maintain a healthier environment.
Grants activities must be sustainable and achieve measurable outcomes. For example, the Oregon Department of Education will use the grant funds to hold 10 Smarter Lunchroom workshops on strategies for arranging the lunchroom that promote healthy choices. As a result, at least 120 school food authorities and child nutrition program sponsors will receive training and follow-up assistance. A summary of previous years’ grant activities by state can be found at the Team Nutrition Training Grants website.
The Team Nutrition Training Grants are awarded as part of USDA’s Team Nutrition initiative, which provides resources, training, and nutrition education lessons for schools and child care providers. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Team Nutrition initiative. In that time, Team Nutrition has provided nearly $90 million in grant funds to state agencies that implement USDA Child Nutrition Programs.