Having students excited to eat cafeteria food is a perennial problem for schools. Specialized diets, personal lunches and off-campus meals all eat into a school nutrition department’s revenue.

But a new take on “meals-on-wheels” might just be the answer to keeping students eating at school.

Last year, Austin Independent School District was awarded $600,000 by The Life Time Foundation to help launch a second food truck – the “Nacho Average Food Truck”. Along with supporting a second food truck, the grant supports breakfast in the classroom initiatives and culinary training for staff.

Jason Thunstrom, Vice President of Public Relations for The Life Time Foundation, awarded the grant to AISD staff.

“[Austin ISD] is not only about high-quality education, it’s about high-quality nutrition,” Thunstrom said.

Taking ideas from mobile food carts from Vancouver to Dubai, the critically-acclaimed movie on food trucks “Chef“, and lunch spots on wheels popping up in food truck parks across the U.S., – it only makes sense that school nutrition departments would jump on the food truck bandwagon. Millennial parents and their Generation Z kiddos, especially in metropolitan and urban areas, are used to seeing and ordering from food trucks.  Rather than just a “fad”, it seems food trucks are a trend that is here to stay.

Often sporting window-wide images of fruits and veggies, food trucks are hard to miss – and since students eat with their eyes, this can be a huge draw. Food trucks offer school nutrition departments a new and trendy alternative to the standard cafeteria. With students constantly looking for unconventional options during lunch, food trucks can help schools keep students on campus. Even when the trucks serve the same cafeteria food at identical prices, students find the trucks more appealing. This is great news for schools not looking to expand their menus or buy additional equipment.

With only minimal equipment (like mobile POS), a school food truck can serve up to 700 students in less than two hours. You can equip the food truck with a sink, oven, stove, refrigerator and other necessary kitchen equipment – or you can rely on a satellite kitchen (like the kitchen of the closest serving site) to prepare and transport the food to the truck for serving.

Summer Feeding

Summertime can prove especially tough for hungry students. With school out for summer, parents/guardians at work and bus transportation limited, many students find it difficult to receive steady (much less, nutritious) meals. Schools, especially in rural areas, often struggle to provide summer feeding to students that can be spread out over many miles.

Enter mobile feeding. The USDA began sponsoring mobile feeding units in 2013 to help combat the meal accessibility issue many students face.

Schools can now use mobile food trucks as an official Summer Meal site. All communities are eligible – rural, urban, and even suburban. Instead of parents and students attempting to find transportation to receive summer meals, schools can go directly to those most in need.

For more on summer feeding and Summer Food Service Programs, see our webinar here.

Applying For Funding

There are numerous grants schools can leverage to receive funding for mobile feeding. A good place to start is the USDA website. Here schools can look at open grants and check passed funding opportunities from previous years.

The USDA Rural Development (RD) is an option for smaller districts. RD grants are available for applicants who are assisting in the development of essential community facilities in rural areas and towns of up to 20,000 in population. These funds may be used to assist in the development of essential community facilities, including capital expenditures for vehicles, and are available on a rolling basis.

Finally, there’s Grants.gov. Here schools can lookup and apply for any government funded grant. If you already know what you’re looking for, you can search for a specific grant or do a filtered search.