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Serving Up a Brighter Future: California's Roadmap to School Food Reform

California is leading the way in the movement towards making healthy school meals available for all students. Read more to learn about the innovative improvements that are happening in California schools beginning this summer.

There is so much momentum in the state of California for school food. Thanks to the generous support and leadership from Governor Gavin Newsom and First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the future of school food in California is looking bright. The First Partner’s Farm to School Roadmap to Success provides a guide to helping school-aged children in California have access to fresh, nutritious foods so that they may be more successful throughout their school day.

Read on to learn about a few current opportunities happening in California.

State-wide Initiatives

Possibly the biggest win in school food for California was the passing of the School Meals for All bill in 2021. This bill ensured that all CA students will have access to two free meals a day starting August 2022. California is not only leading the way for the rest of the country, but also setting a great example for why healthy school meals for all are so important.

Additionally, over the past two years, CA school districts were awarded 60 million dollars in Farm to School Incubator grants. These competitive grants will support projects that foster sustainability, focus on nutrition education, and promote equitable procurement. Programs have the opportunity to apply for funds under the following categories:

  • Track 1: The California Farm to School K-12 Procurement and Education Grant

  • Track 2: The California Farm to School Partnership Grant

  • Track 3: The California Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) Grant

  • Track 4: The California Farm to School Producer Grant

Studies prove that children who eat nutritious foods at school perform better academically, have fewer behavior problems, and see improvement in mental cognition. Farm to School programs not only support school children through these avenues, but directly contribute to the local economy as well as help to promote a healthier environment.

KIT Funding

In addition to the Farm to School funds, CA also just awarded districts 150 million in KIT (Kitchen Infrastructure Training) funds. Districts opted into this program in January and recently learned their allocation amounts. Funds were broken down into two categories: Equipment and Training. Districts have until June 30, 2023 to spend these dollars.

The purpose of KIT funds is to provide resources for school food programs to purchase kitchen equipment, remodel or make upgrades to kitchens, and provide food service staff with professional development training to increase access to more nutritious foods for students.

Districts have one year to spend their funds and utilize this incredible opportunity to revitalize their kitchen equipment and gain access to professional development for their staff. To help support districts, the Chef Ann Foundation can provide equipment recommendations, as well as virtual and onsite training. This can include School Food Institute courses taught by founder Chef Ann Cooper, virtual technical assistance sessions covering meals per labor hour and staffing plans, procurement, salad bar implementation, menu planning, marketing, onsite culinary, recipe, and customer service training, and more. The Chef Ann Foundation works with districts to understand their needs and how they can best be supported in using their KIT Funds to improve and sustain their meal programs.

Implementation Work

Through our growing implementation work, we’ve collaborated with districts on targeted projects. Many school food programs contain opportunities for growth and expansion, and we’re excited to share some of our current work:

Foothills Fresh
In the school food world, rural districts are often overlooked and underserved. Large urban districts commonly receive support from organizations because they reach a large number of students. But rural districts should have access to the same resources and support as large, urban districts. One way of accessing these benefits is by combining the purchasing power of small districts into a unified contract.

Foothills Fresh is a uniquely designed project. In collaboration with Sierra Harvest, we helped nine small, rural school districts in Western Nevada County, California to create a Joint Power of Authority (JPA) in order to leverage buying power and improve food quality. This model can be replicated nationwide, by combining groups of like-minded districts to create a single purchasing entity.

Twin Rivers

Twin Rivers Unified School District (TRUSD) is located in the greater Sacramento area and is a large district with over 24,000 students enrolled. We are currently working with TRUSD to help incorporate more scratch-cooked recipes into their menu as well as make overall recipe recommendations. Some of these recommendations were based on feedback from students via surveys. Based on in-depth facilities assessments, we were also able to make equipment and sustainability recommendations unique to this project. These efforts all build to the overall goal of improving kitchen efficiency, increasing participation, and creating more nutritious food for TRUSD students.

Continuing the Momentum

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve learned not only how many families rely on the National School Lunch Program to help feed their children, but also how important school food professionals are in our communities. For many students, the meals they receive at school may be the only access they have to a hot meal or to fresh fruits and vegetables, therefore it’s increasingly important to make those meals as nutritious as possible.

The work and support in the state of California truly is leading the way toward healthier meals for all. We hope that California is setting the new standard for our country in moving towards nutritious meals for all kids in school.


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