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Academy Advocates for Healthy School Meals for All

May 5, 2023 – Healthy School Meals for All would provide school meals to all students at no charge, ensuring all children have the nutrition they need to grow and thrive. The Academy continues to advocate for Healthy School Meals for All and joined other organizations in the following statement of support, released today:

We know that school meals play an important role in reducing childhood hunger, supporting good nutrition, and ensuring that students are well nourished and ready to get the most out of their school day.

Research links participation in school meals to positive educational and health outcomes for our nation’s children. School meals are just as important to academic success as textbooks, computers, and transportation, and all children should have access to them every school day.

As vital as the school nutrition programs are to ensuring children’s access to healthy, nutritious meals, too many children in need miss out on school meals because of the programs’ current structure. Many struggling families do not meet the eligibility threshold for free meals, which requires a family of four to earn less than $37,000 annually. The current structure with some children being offered free meals or meals at a reduced price, and others paying for their meals, also leads many children who are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals, particularly those in middle and high school, to choose not to participate because of stigma.

Providing free meals to all students, regardless of household income, would reduce stigma and ensure that all students have the nutrition they need during the school day. It would ease the pressure on families’ household food budgets, allowing them to count on a nutritious school breakfast and lunch each school day to help make ends meet. It would reduce administrative work for school staff, allowing them to focus on preparing nutritious and appealing meals instead of processing paperwork. And it would eliminate unpaid school meal fees, helping to ensure that the cafeteria is a positive place for all students and ending the financial burden that school meal debt creates for school districts.

Providing school meals to all students is also critical for advancing racial equity and justice, helping to ensure that Black, Indigenous, and Latinx students can access the key nutrition they need to thrive in the classroom and beyond.

Schools were able to offer free school meals to all their students beginning in the spring of 2020 when the pandemic began to sweep the country. Free school meals were offered to all students no matter their learning mode — remote, in-person, or hybrid — through the 2021–2022 school year, and were ended despite the ongoing need. This trial run showed how beneficial offering free meals to all students is for children, families, and schools.

“The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics strongly supports and advocates for healthful school meals. School meals are crucial in alleviating childhood food insecurity, and studies continue to show schools are the healthiest place in the U.S. for children to eat. School meals can have a positive impact by helping to reduce racial disparities in health and education, while also supporting learning, attendance, and behavior.” - Ellen R. Shanley, registered dietitian nutritionist and the Academy’s 2022–2023 President.

Read quotes from other supporting organizations on the importance of Healthy School Meals for All.

Academy members are encouraged to add their support to this effort by joining the Nutrition Security Affinity Group.

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