Serving Healthy School Meals

Despite challenges, schools meet USDA meal requirements.

A boy drinking a carton of milk through a straw.

The Issue

In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed updated nutrition standards for school meals, calling on schools to offer more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and to serve only fat-free and low-fat milk. Schools were required to implement the new standards at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.

The Kids’ Safe & Healthful Foods Project, a collaboration between Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, commissioned a study analyzing school districts’ ability to meet the updated standards. The questionnaire, which respondents completed between August and December 2012, covered four main topics: readiness for and barriers to meeting the new standards; adequacy of and need to replace or add food service equipment to help meet the standards; kitchen infrastructure needs; and staff training needs.

This report presents findings about when district leaders expected to be able to meet the new standards, challenges they faced in doing so, and how they are finding solutions to those challenges.

Key Findings

  • Ninety-four percent of school food authorities expected to be able to meet the new lunch requirements by the end of the 2012-13 school year. Sixty-three percent anticipated meeting the new standards by the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.

  • Most school food authorities—91 percent—indicated that they faced one or more challenges to reaching full implementation of the standards. Challenges included the lack of adequate equipment or training and issues with food costs and availability.

  • Most school food authorities with inadequate equipment reported “making do” with some type of less efficient process, or workaround. Respondents described the workarounds as inadequate, expensive, inefficient, and/or unsustainable.