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Grants will upgrade state's school kitchens

Day staff

Publication: theday.com

Published April 18. 2014 11:40AM   Updated April 19. 2014 12:58AM

Connecticut will receive $278,079 as part of $25 million in grants announced today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help schools purchase kitchen equipment needed to provide nutritious lunches and breakfasts.

More than 90 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards, serving meals with more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy and less sodium and fat, the agriculture department said in a news release. These new grants provide additional support to schools to help them prepare meals that meet those standards.

"We know that there is still a significant unmet need for kitchen equipment in schools, and outdated equipment can make it more difficult to prepare healthy meals," said Tom Vilsack, agriculture secretary.

Eighty-eight percent of school districts nationwide reported a need for at least one piece of equipment, and 55 percent need infrastructure upgrades, according to a report by the Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project – a collaboration with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Nationally, 30 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program daily, more than 70 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunch based on family income. About one-third of children are overweight or obese, the report noted, putting them at risk for diabetes, heart disease and other chronic illnesses. Because children consume up to half their daily calories at school, the foods served there have a significant impact on their health and well-being, the report said.

In Connecticut, 70 percent of school districts reported that they are serving meals that meet the updated nutrition standards, the project report said, and 87 percent of Connecticut schools said they need at least one piece of equipment to enable them to provide more nutritious meals. About 46 percent of the state's schools have some funds budgeted for kitchen equipment upgrades, and 71 percent of districts have at least one school in need of kitchen infrastructure improvements, the report said.

In Connecticut, the grant funds will be distributed through the state Department of Education's Bureau of Health and Nutrition, Family Services and Adult Education. The office can be reached at (860) 807-2050.

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