Senators Introduce Bipartisan School Food Modernization Act

3/19/2021 - The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics commends U.S. Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Tina Smith (Minn.) on the bipartisan introduction of the School Food Modernization Act of 2021. The Academy calls on Congress to pass the legislation, which will expand schools' ability to modernize kitchen infrastructure and equipment, strengthen workforce training and support emergency preparedness for the future.

"The COVID-19 pandemic provides even more evidence for establishing healthful eating habits at a young age, especially given its disproportionate impact on people with diet-related chronic disease," said registered dietitian nutritionist Linda T. Farr, RDN, CSOWM, LD, FAND, president of the Academy. "For schools to have the ability to provide nutritious meals and help children establish those healthful habits, they need optimally functioning kitchen equipment and appropriate training called for in the School Food Modernization Act."

Even before the pandemic, nearly 90% of schools needed at least one piece of updated school kitchen equipment. When schools do not have adequate equipment, they are forced to use costly and inefficient workarounds. As schools stretch to respond to food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic while also facing significant financial losses from this crisis, providing an infusion of additional funding can help ensure schools are prepared to serve healthy, nutritious foods when schools return to normal operations. It is also an opportunity to equip school kitchens for future emergency scenarios.

"Recently, I replaced two ovens that were from 1972," said Academy member and nutrition and dietetics technician, registered, Jeanne Reilly, director of school nutrition at Windham Raymond School in Windham, Maine. "Our school nutrition program has taken a financial hit since the pandemic started and we do not have additional funds to purchase equipment. When talking to my colleagues in the state and across the country, they are in similar situations. I'm thrilled that my senator understands the needs of school nutrition professionals and sees the role we can play in emergency situations."

The School Food Modernization Act includes a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan assistance program to help schools acquire new equipment; provides grant assistance for purchase of high-quality kitchen equipment; and provides training and technical assistance to school foodservice personnel to help them meet and exceed nutritional standards and improve the effectiveness of their school lunch and breakfast programs.