The Urban School Food Alliance Advocates for High-Quality, Nutritious School Meals

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
Urban School Food Alliance

Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series

Name: Urban School Food Alliance

What They Do: The Urban School Food Alliance (USFA) is an organization comprised of school food professionals working together to address the needs of the nation’s largest school districts. It was born out of a concern shared by six large school districts that the school food system was not able to provide students with healthy, high-quality meals. Representatives from USFA member school districts collaborate to share best practices, develop procurement standards, and advocate for evidence-based child nutrition policies. They prioritize nutrition, local foods, and sustainability. 

How They Do It: USFA’s main focus areas are:

  1. Strategic Procurement: USFA prioritizes quality food, environmentally friendly supplies, local sourcing, and lower overall costs. The alliance has a dedicated procurement committee with a hired specialist who can help members navigate the procurement process. In the summer of 2023, they launched a four-week miniseries with guest speakers to share information and strategies for local procurement. 
  2. Antibiotics in Chicken and Turkey: The alliance completed a “no antibiotics ever” (NAE) chicken procurement pilot through a large cooperative in Texas to test a disruption in the school food marketplace and drive demand for quality foods at lower prices. In 2021, USFA announced that turkey products in member schools must comply with the Certified Responsible Use of Antibiotics standard, which states that antibiotics may not be administered to the turkeys prior to hatching, and antibiotics with human analogs can be used only for treating or controlling disease in the turkeys, not for preventing disease or promoting growth.  
  3. Sustainability: In 2015, the alliance pushed for the development of the five-compartment compostable plate that is now used in many districts, and they advocate for food waste reduction in all member communities. In partnership with Cafeteria Culture and Cool School Cafe, USFA helped introduce the first-ever Plastic Free Lunch Day USA in November 2022 to promote a reduction in single-use plastics in school cafeterias nationwide.
  4. Expertise Sharing: USFA shares best practices within the alliance as well as with school districts throughout the country, politicians, and other national leaders. They have a comprehensive resource page on their website to share information with other professionals and the general public. Alliance members and staff have presented information at congressional hearings and attended prestigious conferences including the 50th Anniversary of the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition, and Health
  5. Culinary Training: USFA has partnered with the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio, Texas, to provide USFA school food professionals with a one-week training session to build culinary skills and focus on plant-based foods. 
  6. Advocacy: USFA partners with other organizations to promote research-based nutrition policy and advocate for high-quality, nutritious school food. 

USFA’s board of directors, made up of school nutrition directors from member districts and food systems experts around the country, provides leadership for all USFA programming and ensures that its work is relevant to all school districts served. 

Mission: To leverage members’ collective voice to transform school meals so that all students have access to no-cost, high-quality, healthy meals.

Latest project/campaign: On October 11, 2023, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the availability of $60 million in new grants and training opportunities to support nutritious school meals through various organizations nationwide. USFA has joined the USDA in a $4.4 million cooperative agreement to assist school districts in procuring high-quality, nutritious foods at low cost. USFA will:

  • Develop new tools and trainings to inform school districts about best practices for purchasing school foods.
  • Establish an advisory group of school nutrition stakeholders and create an action plan to address school food procurement challenges.
  • Create an interactive bid template to help standardize school food procurement processes.

The development of new tools and the establishment of an advisory group are expected to begin in early 2024. 

Major Funding: Joyce and Irving Goldman Family Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Nielsen Foundation, No Kid Hungry, The Rachael Ray Foundation, Rachael Ray’s Yum-O!, The Rockefeller Foundation, America’s Food Fund, Life Time Foundation, Robert and Toni Bader Charitable Foundation

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual Budget: $1.6 million

Interesting fact about how they are working to positively affect the food system: The majority of students in USFA district schools qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. Since 2012, USFA has served 671 million free, nutritious meals to 4 million students at 6,185 schools. 


1612 K Street, NW
Suite 200
Washington, DC 20006

Core Programs: School food procurement, culinary training, advocacy

Number of staff: 5

Number of volunteers: 14 (10 on Board of Directors, 4 on Advisory Council)

School districts served: 

  • Austin, TX
  • Baltimore City, MD
  • Boston, MA
  • Broward County, FL
  • Chicago, IL
  • Dallas, TX
  • DeKalb County, GA
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • Memphis-Shelby County, TN
  • Miami-Dade County, FL
  • New York City, NY
  • Orlando, FL
  • Palm Beach County, FL
  • Philadelphia, PA
  • Portland, OR
  • San Diego, CA
  • Seattle, WA

Year Started: 2012

Executive Director: Dr. Katie Wilson, SNS

Contact Information: Email: 


Learn More: 

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