Bill introduced to Improve School Kitchen Equipment throughout the state

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BISMARCK, N.D. - The topic of school lunch is back on the political table. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., reintroduced a bill last week to help modernize school kitchens and improve the nutritional value of meals.

Granville elementary school's garden provides healthy lunch options.

"Our students and staff love it. We love it as well, just getting to prepare the food that's fresh right out of our back door," said Karla Thompson, TGU co-ed cook.

But, with an abundance of fresh produce, extra storage space is needed, space that the district can't afford to provide or has a challenge getting a grant for.

"The budget is always kind of tight in smaller schools, especially when we're dealing with older facilities like we have here. Right now there's just not a lot of grants available and the few that are available are super competitive, and so the moneys just aren't available to a lot of smaller schools like ours," said Erik Sveet, TGU superintendent.

Heitkamp reintroduced a Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill last Thursday that seeks to help schools like TGU get the kitchen equipment and infrastructure it needs.

"One of the challenges that we have in serving healthy meals is so many of our kitchens are so old. A lot of our schools were built in the 50s and 60s and that's exactly when the kitchen equipment was put in and so we need to modernize that kitchen equipment to accommodate fresh fruits and vegetables," said Heitkamp.

Heitkamp's office says 74 percent of the state's school districts need updated kitchen equipment. The School Food Modernization Act seeks to fund an estimated 18 thousand dollars per school for the need equipment.

Currently 100 percent of North Dakota school districts meet U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition standards. The bill proposes to build on this success by enabling school kitchens to offer more healthy options.

"If you don't have a proper meal I don't think your brain can function. So that's why I think it's so important for the children or the students to come in and get a variety of food," said Wanda Bachmeier, TGU parent.

The bill aims to put children on a healthy path and reduce the risk of childhood obesity.

Heitkamp joined Maine Senator Susan Collins in introducing the bill to the Senate. Companion legislation was also introduced on the House floor.