USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on Tuesday pledged an additional $8 million to help school professionals more effectively implement changing national school lunch guidelines.
The guidelines, under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, include serving more fruits, vegetables and whole grains while avoiding added sugar and sodium.
Of the funding, approximately $2.6 million in grants will support implementation of the standards and $5.6 million will go to help states expand and enhance food service training programs and provide nutrition education in school, child care, and summer meal settings.
The push prefaces a Congressional vote that could renew the HHFKA, as it expires Sept. 30.
"For the past three years, kids have eaten healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school thanks to the bipartisan Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which made the first meaningful improvements to the nutrition of foods and beverages served in cafeterias and sold in vending machines in 30 years," Vilsack said.
The ag secretary attended an event pushing for HHFKA support at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.
"Nearly all schools are successfully meeting the standards, and these grants part of our ongoing commitment to give states and schools the additional resources they need. Parents, teachers, principals, and school nutrition professionals want the best for their children. Together we can make sure we're giving our kids the healthy start in life they deserve," Vilsack said.
While there has been vocal opposition of the school lunch standards due to concerns of plate waste and flexibilities whole grains and protein requirements, USDA says that 95% of schools report successful implementation of the nutrition standards.
The standards were based on recommendations from pediatricians and other child health experts at the Institute of Medicine.
USDA has rolled out several grant and training programs to assist schools with the new standards, one being the announcement of national professional standards for school nutrition employees.
These standards, which vary according to position and job requirements, ensure that school nutrition professionals have the training and skills they need to plan, prepare, purchase, and promote healthy meals. They went into effect on July 1, 2015.
More on the new grants
USDA is providing a total of $2.6 million to 19 state agencies to develop and enhance existing trainings within their state that will allow school nutrition professionals to meet these standards.
The Professional Standards Training Grants promote training in nutrition; operations; administration; and communications and marketing.
In addition, 19 states received a 2015 Team Nutrition Training Grant of up to $350,000 – $5.6 million in total – to support trainings that focus on encouraging healthy eating. Those efforts could include:
• using Smarter Lunchrooms strategies that use principles from behavioral economics to encourage healthy choices,
• meeting meal pattern requirements for school meals,
• delivering interactive nutrition education activities, and
• providing schools and child care providers with technical assistance to create and maintain a healthier environment.
The Team Nutrition Training Grants are awarded as part of USDA's Team Nutrition initiative, which provides resources, training, and nutrition education lessons for schools and child care providers.
Vilsack said Tuesday that the funding will ultimately foster healthier kids and promote greater security for the U.S.
"Our country is now facing global competition for economic opportunity," Vilsack said during his comments. "We're going to need every person in this country working and producing to their God-given ability."