WASHINGTON, DC – As part of National Nutrition Month, Representatives Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-1), Jahana Hayes (CT-5), and Julia Brownley (CA-26) introduced the Scratch Cooked Meals for Students Act, to launch a grant program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand scratch cooking in schools.

Research shows school meals are the healthiest meals children eat in a day. Building upon this success, the practice of scratch cooking allows school districts to prepare their own meals using fresh, locally sourced ingredients instead of serving pre-assembled or processed meals. This innovative approach incorporates a farm to table system in the school setting that helps to reduce water, carbon, and waste footprints.

Scratch cooking has had early success in improving student health and wellness, academic performance, sustainability, and school food workforce development. Further, the procurement of ingredients from local farms has also been proven to lower food costs and drive economic activity in the communities around participating schools.

“School districts across the country should have the opportunity to be serving fresh and nutritious food to students, rather than pre-assembled and processed meals,” said Congressman Fitzpatrick. “I’m proud to co-sponsor the bipartisan Scratch Cooked Meals for Students Act to encourage school districts to expand scratch cooking practices. This approach would not only improve student health and wellness, but also increase economic activity by procuring fresh ingredients from local farms around participating schools.”

“Fruits and vegetables are key for healthy growth and brain development in children. Instilling healthy eating habits early on means improved academic performance and lower risk for serious health conditions like heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. Scratch cooking not only brings fresh, nutritious meals into schools, it promotes workforce development, stimulates economic growth, and strengthens local partnerships between school districts and local farmers and producers,” said Congresswoman Hayes. “The Scratch Cooked Meals for Students Act is a comprehensive way to create healthy, environmentally conscious eating habits in students at an early age, which they can carry well into adulthood. I thank my colleagues, Congresswoman Brownley and Congressman Fitzpatrick, for their commitment to child nutrition and bringing fresh meals to schools.”

“School districts have limited funds to prepare meals, which often restricts school children’s access to healthy food options. Scratch cooking makes it possible for school food programs to serve more nutritious, sustainable, climate-friendly meals and puts the power of more hearty alternatives in the hands of local schools,” said Congresswoman Brownley. “I applaud Congresswoman Hayes for her leadership in introducing the Scratch Cooked Meals for Students Act to implement scratch cooking in school meal programs across the country that will improve the health and well-being of students while reducing the overall costs and climate impacts of school food operations.”

Specifically, the Scratch Cooked Meals for Students Act would:

  • Allocate $100 million over 5 years for grants to schools interested in transitioning to scratch cooking. These funds can be used for:
    • Professional development related to scratch cooking
    • Purchasing cafeteria equipment for scratch cooking;
    • Providing employee compensation related to scratch cooking; or
    • Providing necessary technical assistance, pupil engagement, and education related to scratch cooking.
  • Prioritize grants to school districts with a high percentage of students receiving free and reduced-price lunch under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and School Food Authority (SFAs) with collective bargaining agreements or Memorandum of Agreement (MOA). 
  • Create a Technical Assistance (TA) Center at USDA that would work with non-profits to provide assistance and guidance to grant recipients.

The bill has been endorsed by: Chef Ann Foundation, National Education Association (NEA), School Nutrition Association (SNA).