WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) have reintroduced the bipartisan School Food Modernization Act (S.540), a bill aimed to help schools provide healthier meals to students across the country.
Many schools lack the right equipment and infrastructure for preparing meals with fresh, healthy ingredients. The School Food Modernization Act would establish a loan guarantee, grant, and technical assistance program within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help schools acquire the new equipment needed to prepare healthier, more nutritious meals.
“With more than 30 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program every school day, the food served to these children has a demonstrable effect on their health and well-being,” said Senator Collins. “In Maine, 40 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price meals based on household income, and we need to start school children off with the right food every day so they are able to concentrate in the classroom and succeed in their studies. The School Food Modernization Act will help assist schools in providing healthier meals to students throughout the country.”
School administrators or other eligible borrowers could obtain federal guarantees for 80 percent of the loan value needed to construct, remodel, or expand school kitchens, dining, or food storage infrastructure. Targeted grant assistance would give school administrators and food service directors the seed funding needed to upgrade kitchen infrastructure or purchase kitchen equipment such as commercial ovens, steamers, and stoves. The bill would also strengthen training and technical assistance to help school food service personnel meet nutrition standards.
“The right kitchen tools and techniques save time and money, making it easier to serve the healthy, scratch-cooked meals that our students enjoy,” said Melanie Lagasse, Food Service Manager for the New Sweden School Department in Aroostook County, Maine. “Outdated equipment and limited professional training are serious obstacles to better school food, and investments that address these challenges would quickly benefit the health of kids in my district and across Maine.”
As schools across the nation work to meet USDA school meal standards and serve healthier, more nutritious meals, they must have access to the right tools to do so. Schools built decades ago often lack the infrastructure necessary to prepare meals rich in fresh ingredients and must rely on workarounds that are expensive, inefficient, and unsustainable. The School Food Modernization Act would help schools expand their services beyond just reheating and holding food for meal service.