Providing healthier food for students can require new equipment

Jefferson County Public Schools photo
Almost all Kentucky schools are serving meals that meet federal "standards for strong nutrition, but in order to do this, many of these same schools have to work around equipment and infrastructure challenges," Ashlie Stevens reports for WEKU-FM. A survey by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that 89 percent of the state's school districts "needed at least one piece of new equipment to better serve nutritious foods."

The average cost of that is about $50,000 per school, "which is tough considering how public school cafeterias are funded," Stevens reports. Dan Ellnor, manager of the Nutrition Service Center for Jefferson County Public Schools, told her, “No local tax dollars go to feed kids; it is a completely federal grant program. . . . If we don’t make money, we can’t reinvest in the program.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the school-meals program, has grant fund to help schools buy equipment, but it is relatively small "because the need across the country is so immense," Stevens reports. Legislation in Congress would expend the program to include loans.

In Jefferson County, “Our main challenge has been refrigeration with the increased fruits and vegetables,” which require "a lot more storage space," Ellnor said. Stevens adds, "The schools also need new combination ovens to roast and steam instead of fry these foods, and sometimes they just need more physical space for food prep."

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