USDA hopes $50M can make school lunch more ‘appetizing,’ ‘appealing’

The federal government is on a mission to make school lunch more likely to be eaten and less likely to be thrown away.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Thursday offered $50 million in grant funding to food industry companies that help make school lunch more nutritious and tastier.

USDA said the grant is aimed at supporting “collaboration with the food industry to develop nutritious, appetizing school meals for students.”

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FILE – A third-grader punches in her student identification to pay for a meal at Gonzales Community School in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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“The grants will support schools’ ability to access a wider variety of healthy, appealing products and promote innovation by food producers and suppliers, including local producers and small and disadvantaged businesses,” USDA said.

USDA spent more than $14 billion on the National School Lunch Program in 2019 and provided nearly 5 billion lunches that year. But USDA has also been worried for years about school lunch waste and knows that a major factor is getting kids to eat what’s on their tray.

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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks on rising food prices at a press briefing at the White House on Sept. 8, 2021.
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“The best way to tackle food waste is to make sure students consume what they take,” USDA says. “This involves good planning by school nutrition staff, getting students involved in decision-making, and having teachers educate students on the impacts of wasted food.”

Making school lunch more desirable might be another way, according to the grant offered this week. USDA will award the money to as many as four non-government organizations, which will then award grants to “support and enhance the food supply chain for K-12 schools.”

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President Joe Biden

Grantees can be food producers, suppliers and distributors, as well as school districts and other groups that can “support schools’ ability to access a wider variety of healthy, appealing products and promote innovation by food producers and suppliers.”

USDA said the grant is the second phase of its $100 million healthy meals initiative, which is aimed at boosting access to nutritious food for students. But making that food palatable for kids is another major goal.

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“Increasing access to nutritious and appealing foods for kids is critical to the success of strong school meal standards,” USDA said.