The program, known as the Get Schools Cooking initiative, enables school officials to add more whole fruits, vegetables, and grains to their cafeteria's menus while also cutting back on processed heat-and-serve items.

Healthy Lunch in a School Cafeteria
Credit: Westend61 / Getty Images

Earlier this summer, the United States Department of Agriculture shared very good news with American families—it had received an additional $9 million in funding for its Farm to School Program, which gives grants to public schools across the nation. The Get Schools Cooking initiative, one of the many projects under the program's umbrella, allows school districts to vastly increase offerings of healthy, local ingredients and return to fresh prep methods rather than convenient reheating. As students head back to school this month, the USDA's funding has made it possible for even more schools to apply for the funding necessary to upgrade their lunchroom offerings.

The program has already helped brighten students' lunches in 12 different states since 2016; highly processed items like chicken nuggets and hot dogs have been replaced with leaner, less-processed options like chicken and beef, and a greater selection of fruits and healthy vegetable-based sides are offered. Classic lunchroom favorites like mac and cheese, tacos, and pizza are still on the menu, but these dishes are made from scratch using local ingredients by cafeteria staff that have been specially trained to create wholesome plates

Kim Herrington, the school programs and finance director of the Whole Kids Foundation, told FoodNavigator that training lunchrooms to handle the shift from reheating prepared foods to cooking from scratch is a major focus of each grant. "What our kids eat at school matters. We understand that moving from processed food to scratch cooking takes a deep commitment, and making that change has enormous benefits for students' health, their achievement, and the environment." 

According to a 2016 report from the Pew Charitable Trusts, school districts have reported steady or increased participation in school lunch programs (as well as stable revenue) after receiving Get Schools Cooking training and resources. The change to locally sourced ingredients doesn't only help students; schools are investing into their local economies as they purchase ingredients from nearby farmers as well. New funding in the Get Schools Cooking program has allowed federal officials to help even more schools across the nation begin cooking lunches from scratch. According to FoodNavigator, each individual grant can be as large as $267,000; it covers new equipment costs, staff training, data solutions, and continued support throughout the three-year period that it takes to get lunchrooms to make the hearty, healthy lunches that parents strive to make at home, too.


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