Voices for Healthy Kids shared with Healthy Lombard that reading, writing … and really nutritious lunch? That’s what’s on the menu this upcoming school year. The federal government extended healthy school meals for all – as a response to the ongoing pandemic – through the 2021-22 school year so that all students can eat free meals at school regardless of family income.
While this is a win for students, their families, and schools, the future of healthy school meals for all beyond this school year is unknown. Kristy Anderson, MPP, the senior government relations advisor for the American Heart Association, is working to take this temporary program and make it a permanent one. Voices for Healthy Kids sat down with her to gain insight into healthy school meals for all and why it should be here to stay.
Voices for Healthy Kids: What is healthy school meals for all?
Kristy Anderson: Healthy school meals for all allow children enrolled in a school that operates the National School Lunch Program or School Breakfast Program to receive free breakfast and free lunch, regardless of their families’ incomes. Healthy school meals for all also removes the administrative burden for schools and families by making all kids eligible.
We are super-excited that the budget bill being considered in the House of Representatives expands the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) – a program that was created under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that allows for the highest poverty schools to provide universal meals. While this is an important step toward achieving healthy school meals for all, we still need to continue to push to ensure all children have access to school meals.
Voices for Healthy Kids: What are the benefits of healthy school meals for all?
Anderson: There are too many benefits to mention! This program is really a win-win. We get kids two nutritious meals a day, which helps kids succeed in school. Did you know a recent study showed that school meals are the healthiest source of food for kids?
This program also:
- removes the stigma of children participating in the program
- provides equitable access to healthy meals to all kids – making sure no student goes hungry during the day
- Reduce burdens on families
- provides a steady budget for school foodservice programs
- allows children more time to eat and socialize because there’s no need to stand in line and pay for meals
- takes the pressure off school food service programs to increase revenue by serving foods that may be lower in nutritional quality
Data from the CEP found that serving free meals to all kids improved attendance rates, improved grade promotion, and increased participation in school lunches. It is reasonable to assume that healthy school meals for all could have the same positive impact.