Serving Healthy School Meals

School food authorities need training and technical assistance to provide their employees with the knowledge and skills to serve safe, healthy and appealing student meals.

Teenager in school cafeteria chooses healthy lunch.

The Issue

At the beginning of the 2012-13 school year, the National School Lunch Program of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires school lunches—which are served to more than 30 million students daily—to incorporate more fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. In March 2015, USDA implemented new minimum professional standards for hiring and training of food service staff.

Key Findings

A survey of food service directors or their designees found that:

  • Most school food authority (SFA) directors (59%) and managers (76%) received some on-the-job training; 22 percent had no nutrition-related credentials.

  • SFA directors or food service management teams reported that they needed training on paperwork and procedures (69%), and would benefit from training on developing or modifying menus (68%).

  • Kitchen and cafeteria managers said they needed training on understanding compliance with nutrient requirements (67%) and production records (65%).

  • More SFA directors said they do not have budgets for staff training and development (41%) than said they do have budgets (37%); the remainder (21%) did not know.


Schools should make training food service workers a priority. Policymakers at all levels should make funds available for schools to do so. 

About the Study

Mathematica Policy Research conducted a survey of 3,372 representatives of public school food authorities during the 2012–13 school year, prior to the new professional standards. This report from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the third issued by the Kid’s Safe & Healthful Foods Project.