December 22, 2023

In a recent volume of the Journal of Food Law & Policy, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack authored a commentary, “Healthy School Meals for All: The Role of Food Law and Policy”. [1]

This piece follows the second historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health that Secretary Vilsack kicked off in September 2022. The first Conference took place in 1969 and resulted in many impactful anti-hunger initiatives such as increasing the reach of the National School Lunch Program and permanently authorizing the School Breakfast Program.

In the commentary Vilsack noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic, “[the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)] leveraged every tool at our disposal and applied creative solutions with our partners” to use the federal nutrition programs to get healthy food to individuals and families and prevent widespread food insecurity.

This included flexibilities from USDA that allowed schools to offer free school meals to all children and helped get those meals to students through innovative approaches at the height of the pandemic such as using school busses to drop off meals in neighborhoods and creating grab-and-go meal pick up stations for students learning at home.

Now with the most intense days of the COVID-19 pandemic seemingly behind us and with a National Strategy Document laying out plans for implementation of the ideas called for at the second White House Conference, Vilsack encourages food law and policy professionals to help “bring the Conference to life”. He also noted that healthy school meals for all is one of his top priorities.

The National Strategy document specifically says the Biden-Harris administration will “advance a pathway to free healthy school meals for all” by “working with Congress to expand access to healthy, free school meals for 9 million more children by 2032”.

  • This could be achieved by increasing the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) multiplier from 1.6 to 2.5, which was included in the proposed Biden-Harris 2024 budget and would make operating CEP financially viable for more schools across the country.

The Food Research & Action Center echoes Vilsack’s excitement for healthy school meals for all and other important strategies that came out of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health. Food law and policy professionals along with anti-hunger advocates, school nutrition staff, teachers, administrators and community members have a role to play in strengthening the school meals programs and ensuring that all students are hunger-free and able to get the most out of their school day. Check out our resources at

[1] Vilsack, T. J. (2023). Healthy School Meals for All: The Role of Food Law and Policy. Journal of Food Law & Policy, 19(1). Retrieved from