US Department of Agriculture invests in healthy school meals, access expansion

Contemporary PEDS JournalAugust 2023
Volume 40
Issue 07

To increase access and further support healthy meals in schools across the nation, the US Department of Agriculture has dedicated millions of dollars in grants to achieve this goal.

US Department of Agriculture invests in healthy school meals, access expansion | Image Credit: © pjjaruwan - © pjjaruwan -

US Department of Agriculture invests in healthy school meals, access expansion | Image Credit: © pjjaruwan - © pjjaruwan -

To create appetizing and nutritious meals for students, in March of 2023 the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced multimillion-dollar grants to expand access and support for school meal programs and to increase partnerships between schools and food producers.1

To help achieve this goal, the department announced $50 million in grants. An additional $10 million in grants was announced to expand nutrition education, while proposing regulatory change to allow more schools “the option to provide healthy school meals to all students at no cost.”1

“The Biden-Harris Administration believes that a healthier future for our country starts with our children, said Tom Vilsack, Agriculture Secretary, while speaking at an elementary school in Colorado. “Continuing to make school meals healthier and available to more students are some of the best ways we can help our children thrive early in life.”1

Vilsack announced Boise State University, Chef Ann Foundation, Full Plates Full Potential, and Illinois Public Health Institute are organizations that were awarded $50 million to manage the School Food System Transformation Challenge Sub-Grants, as part of the USDA’s Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative. According to the press release, the grants will help bring a wider variety of “healthy, appealing foods” into the school lunchrooms. Other eligible organizations and schools can visit the USDA’s Healthy Meals Incentives website to apply for the challenge sub-grants and for updates.1

Applications were also opened for up to $10 million-worth in Fiscal Year 2023 Team Nutrition Grants to support nutrition education for school-aged children.1 Through a competitive award process (for use over a 3-year grant period), up to $1 million will be awarded per school food authority (SFA) or state agency.2 The grant will support state agencies and SFAs by including healthy eating patterns among pre-K through 12th grade children and their families “through the coordination and implementation of MyPlate nutrition education connected to the nutritious meals and snacks offered through USDA child nutrition programs.”2

“USDA is taking a holistic approach to supporting school meal programs, which includes strengthening the food supply chain that supports them,” said Stacy Dean, deputy undersecretary, Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. “We’re hopeful that these grants will accelerate and expand innovation in the school food marketplace, so that schools–and ultimately our children–have better access to healthier food products.”1

The USDA also proposed to expand the number of schools eligible for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which according to the department, would provide schools meals to students at no cost. The proposed rule does not increase federal funds for school meals. The USDA notes that an additional $15 billion across 10 years to support CEP participating schools (reaching an additional 9 million students) has been requested as part of President Biden’s 2024 budget.1

“Many schools and even some entire states have successfully provided free meals to all their students,” said Vilsack. “We applaud their leadership in nourishing children and hope this proposed change will make it possible for more schools and states to follow suit.”1


  1. USDA announces new investments in school meals to support healthy kids. US Department of Agriculture. March 22, 2023. Accessed July 10, 2023.
  2. Healthy meals incentives for schools. US Department of Agriculture. Accessed July 10, 2023.
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