Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced the School Food Modernization Act, a bipartisan bill to help schools provide healthier meals to students across the country by establishing a grant, loan guarantee, and technical assistance program.
“School meals play a vital role in the lives of our young people. More than 95,000 schools participate in the National School Lunch program, serving more than 30 million children each day. Many schools, however, lack the right tools for preparing meals rich in fresh ingredients,” said Senator Collins. “Our legislation would help schools purchase equipment and provide training to allow food service personnel to offer a wide variety of nutritious meals and snacks for students.”
“Nutritious meals in schools don’t just keep kids from going hungry; they make it so students can focus and develop a love of learning,” said Senator Smith, a member of the Senate Education Committee. “Yet, in Minnesota, 96 percent of school districts are in need of updated kitchen equipment to better serve nutritious food. This bipartisan bill will enable schools to provide students with the healthy meals they need to reach their full potential in the classroom.”
The School Food Modernization Act is supported by the Maine School Nutrition Association, FoodCorps, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and United Fresh Produce.
“The National School Lunch Program is 73 years old this year and the equipment in many of the program’s more than 95,000 schools is nearly as old. This year, I replaced two ovens that were from 1972 — they were in use for 47 years,” said Jeanne Reilly, director of School Nutrition for the Windham Raymond School Department in Windham, Maine and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “When talking to my colleagues in the state and across the country, there is a real need for equipment in school districts across the country. I’m thrilled that my senator understands the needs of school nutrition professionals and introducing legislation that can help address equipment and infrastructure needs across the country.”
"In order to prepare and process delicious and nutritious foods for students, it is critical that schools have access to quality kitchen equipment and infrastructure, such as cold storage, salad bars, dishwashers, and more. FoodCorps is happy to support the School Food Modernization Act, which would help schools improve their kitchen facilities and help more schools serve healthy meals to kids. We applaud Senators Collins and Smith for their leadership on this bipartisan bill," said Cecily Upton, co-founder, SVP, Chief Strategist, FoodCorps.
“When schools are equipped with adequate tools like cold storage, slicing and dicing equipment, and enticing displays like salad bars, serving a wide variety of fresh fruits and veggies is that much easier. United Fresh is delighted that the School Food Modernization Act is being introduced this year, and thank Senators Collins and Smith for their leadership on this issue. We’re hopeful this will make it into a comprehensive Child Nutrition Reauthorization package this year,” said Tom Stenzel, President & CEO, United Fresh Produce Association.
Many schools built decades ago often lack the infrastructure and equipment necessary to prepare meals with fresh ingredients and must rely on workarounds that are expensive, inefficient, and unsustainable. The School Food Modernization Act would address this by:
- Providing targeted grant assistance for the seed funding needed to upgrade kitchen infrastructure or to purchase high-quality equipment such as commercial ovens, steamers, and stoves;
- Establishing a loan guarantee assistance program within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help schools acquire new equipment to prepare and serve healthier meals; and
- Authorizing USDA to provide support on a competitive basis to highly qualified third-party trainers to develop and administer training and technical assistance, including online programs, to food service personnel.