In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) proposed regulations to update nutrition standards for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs for the first time in 15 years. The updated regulations would dramatically raise the bar for schools. The Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project—a joint initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—partnered with the School Nutrition Foundation to explore the type of equipment and training necessary for schools to successfully meet the proposed regulations. The project conducted a pilot survey among food service directors in three states (Georgia, Kentucky and Wisconsin) to gain insight on perceived equipment and training needs and to explore the viability of a representative national study to further examine the issue and inform decision makers. The results of this initial study are not intended to be generalized as they represent a small sample of schools. However, the findings can help inform the conversation and clarify the need for greater study. Approximately 83 food service directors responded to the pilot survey. Highlights for each state are discussed in the report, but cross-cutting conclusions include:
- The vast majority of respondents indicated they lack adequate funds to repair and/or purchase the kitchen equipment needed to prepare and serve healthier meals that meet USDA’s proposed nutrition standards.
- The expected costs of updating kitchen equipment as needed to meet new USDA standards varied widely, with a median estimate of $52,500 per school district.
- There are substantial baseline differences between school districts in equipment use and preparation methods. Whereas seven percent of responding Wisconsin districts use deep-fat fryers, 88 percent of Georgia and 69 percent of Kentucky schools surveyed use fryers. In contrast, 77 percent of responding districts in Wisconsin use salad bars, while 38 percent in Georgia and Kentucky use this equipment.
- Nearly all respondents indicated that their district’s food service staff would benefit from additional training, particularly in the areas of meal quality, food preparation skills to meet USDA nutrition standards, food safety and productivity.
Serving Safe and Healthy Meals at Schools Takes Equipment and Training Full Study (PDF)