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New Report Underscores the Need for Healthy School Meals for All
WASHINGTON, June 28, 2023 — Many large school districts across the country reported decreased participation in school breakfast and lunch when the nationwide child nutrition waiver that allowed schools to offer school meals to all of their students at no charge ended, according to a report released today by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC). FRAC’s Large School District Report: Operating School Nutrition Programs as the Nation Recovers From the Pandemic looks at survey findings from 91 large school districts in 40 states and the District of Columbia, and their reported breakfast and lunch participation and operations in April 2022 and October 2022. The report reveals that average daily participation in school breakfast decreased by more than 100,000 students across all surveyed districts — from 1.84 million children participating in breakfast each day in April 2022 to 1.74 million participating daily in October 2022. Districts also saw a decrease in school lunch participation by over 250,000 students — from 3.61 million students participating in lunch each day in April 2022 to 3.36 million participating daily in October 2022. Despite a return to normal operations this school year, school food service departments reported continuing to face a multitude of challenges affecting operations and participation, such as rising food costs, supply chain disruptions, labor shortages, and more. Fifty-eight of the 91 surveyed districts (64 percent) returned to the free, reduced-price, and paid tiered eligibility system and no longer offered free meals to all students in at least one of their schools. “We cannot lose the progress gained with Healthy School Meals for All,” said Luis Guardia, president of FRAC. “The return to pre-pandemic operations results in too many children missing out on the nutrition they need to fuel their health and learning. It’s time to move forward with permanent nationwide healthy school meals for all.” School districts agreed; nearly every surveyed district reported numerous benefits to offering school meals to all students at no charge, regardless of household income.
- 92 percent reported that it made it easier for parents and guardians.
- 88 percent reported that it decreased child hunger.
- 86 percent reported that it eliminated stigma associated with school meals.
- 86 percent reported that it supported household finances.
- 84 percent reported that it eliminated school meal debt.
- 79 percent reported that it eased administrative burdens.
- 70 percent reported that it improves students’ food and nutrient intake.
- 67 percent reported that it strengthens food and nutrition services’ image and relationships.
- 65 percent reported that it supports academic achievement.
Research links participation in school meals to positive educational and health outcomes, and Healthy School Meals for All increases participation so that more children are able to experience the benefits linked to participating in school meals.
“Bold, permanent legislative action is needed to ensure that all students have access to healthy school meals at no charge. By passing the Universal Free School Meals Program Act of 2023, Congress would help ensure that every student in every state has access to school meals, as well as to the nutrition they need after school, during the summer, and at child care,” said Guardia.
Read the full report.
The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.