WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (CT-05) led Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) and Congresswoman Julia Brownley (CA-26) in the introduction of the Scratch Cooked Meals for Students Act, to expand the practice of scratch cooking in schools.

Scratch cooking is the practice of school districts cooking their own meals and incorporating whole, fresh ingredients, rather than pre-assembled or processed meals. This approach to preparing school meals has had early success in improving student health and wellness, academic performance, sustainability, and school food workforce development. Procuring fresh ingredients from local farms has also proven to create economic activity in communities around participating schools.

“Hungry kids do not learn – children need nutritious meals to thrive in school. The Scratch Meals for Students Act will incorporate a comprehensive approach to making sure students are getting fresh, nutritious foods to fuel them throughout the day,” said Congresswoman Hayes. “Expanding the practice of scratch cooking not only sets kids up for success, but it also expands opportunities for local farmers and promotes workforce development. Furthermore, this bipartisan effort will instill healthy, environmentally conscious 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.”

"Ensuring that our students have access to nutritious meals is integral for a child's health, development, and academic success," said Congressman Fitzpatrick. "Our bipartisan legislation will assist schools with building food programs that utilize scratch cooking practices to incorporate healthy, fresh, and minimally processed ingredients in school-cooked meals."

"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 Kids Act to support efforts 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."

The Scratch Cooked Meals for Students Act will establish a grant program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to expand the practice of scratch cooking in schools. Specifically, it would:

  • Allocate $100 million over 5 years for grants to schools interested in transitioning to scratch cooking. Grants would total $200k to selected recipients over 2 years. 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: Scratch Works, Chef Ann Foundation, National Education Association, School Nutrition Association, Farm to School Coalition, National Farm to School Network, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, FoodCorps, End Hunger! CT, Nourish Colorado, LunchAssist, and Whole Kids Foundation.

"This bill is monumental in the progression of school food reform, we are grateful to Congresswoman Hayes, Congressman Fitzpatrick and Congresswoman Brownley for their commitment to childhood nutrition and supporting scratch cooking in schools," said Mara Fleishman, founding member of ScratchWorks and CEO of the Chef Ann Foundation.

"School nutrition professionals are working hard to offer their students more scratch-prepared menu options with school meals, but too many schools are hampered by equipment or staffing limitations," said Beth Wallace, MBA, SNS, President of the School Nutrition Association. "The Scratch Cooked Meals for Students Act offers critical grants to help school nutrition teams overcome obstacles like aging equipment and a lack of funds for culinary training."

“The Scratch Cooked Meals for Students Act represents the best in class for nourishing meals at school,” said Marc Egan, Director of Government Relations for the National Education Association. “This bill provides school food service professionals with the skills, compensation, and equipment to prepare nutritious meals that are so important to making sure all students--no matter what they look like, where they come from or where they live--are healthy and ready to learn.”

"End Hunger Connecticut! proudly endorses Congresswoman Hayes’ Scratch Cooked Meals for Students Act. We applaud the Congresswoman’s continued initiative and innovation in efforts to improve and protect child nutrition standards,” said Julieth Callejas, Interim Administrative Director of EHC!. “This bill creates an opportunity for more schools and agencies to provide both nutrition education and access for their students. By funding the infrastructure and training required for scratch meal cooking, schools will be able to improve meal quality, educate students about healthful cooking, provide professional development to nutrition staff, and bolster farm-to-school initiatives. All students deserve nutrition programs that reflect their desire for healthy school meal options. This bill is an important step towards making the implementation of scratch cooking a widespread reality in schools across the country."


Congresswoman Jahana Hayes sits on the Committees on Education & Labor and Agriculture and proudly represents Connecticut’s 5th District. She was a public school teacher in Connecticut for more than 15 years and was recognized in 2016 as the National Teacher of the Year.