Foodservice Equipment Reports

School Lunches Are Healthier, But Need Remains For New Foodservice Equipment

American schoolchildren might be getting healthier lunches, but only a third of the nation’s schools have set up salad bars or invested in the kinds of foodservice equipment that could lead to more meaningful improvement.

The numbers come from a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which investigated school data from 2000, 2006 and 2014. The CDC was looking to see if the changes to school lunches that the U.S. Department of Agriculture mandated in 2012 were having an impact.

It turn out they are.

Nearly every school studied offered whole grains for breakfast and lunch, and the majority offered two or more of both fruits and vegetables each day at lunch. In 2000, 62% of schools offered two or more vegetables per meal and 68% offered two or more fruits. In 2014, those numbers were nearly 80% and 78%, respectively.

But only half of schools took full aim at lowering salt, such as switching from canned vegetables to frozen and fresh ones and using lower-sodium ingredients. About 90% of American kids eat more sodium than recommended, according to the CDC.

Schools might have the best of intentions but lack the equipment to carry through on providing a healthier menu. Many still need new kitchen equipment to store, prepare and serve fruits and vegetables. Since the beginning of the National School Lunch Program, the federal government has provided funding for school kitchen equipment. In 2009, when nearly 30 years had passed without any new funding, the USDA used funding, primarily from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, to provide $125 million to school foodservice administrators to purchase, renovate or replace equipment. The response—the agency received more than $630 million in grant requests—indicated a substantial, and still unmet, need for new or upgraded kitchen equipment.  

Although salad bars can help schools meet the new vegetable requirements, only a third of schools offered the option in 2014. More than 4,100 salad bars have been granted to schools under the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools program. Another 400 schools have requested the equipment, funded by donations under the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools alliance founded by the Chef Ann Foundation, National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, United Fresh Produce Association and Whole Foods Market. Cambro Mfg. is among the hundreds of sponsors donating to the effort.  

Of course, kids being kids, none of the changes means the healthier menus have been welcomed by the target audience: In late August, researchers from the University of Vermont found they throw out 56% more food than before the 2012 changes, especially the fruits and vegetables now mandatory on their lunch trays.

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