Federal support for school food programs is about to expire -- Our expert explains the importance of keeping kids hunger-free

Federal support for school food programs is about to expire -- Our expert explains the importance of keeping kids hunger-free

June 8, 20222 min read

For two years during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. public schools have been able to provide free meals for all students, including to-go meals in the summer. But on June 30, 2022, the federal waivers that expanded the school lunch program will expire.

In a recent Q&A published by The Conversation, Marlene Schwartz, a professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Connecticut and the director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Health, discusses how these changes will affect children and families and how food pantries can help:

What are the effects of making school meals free for all students?

The findings are pretty clear that when students have universal free meals, participation in school meals programs goes up, so more children eat them. And research shows that the meals that are provided through the school meal program are of higher nutritional quality than the meals that children bring from home or get from other places.

Some studies have found that when you provide universal free meals, you have improvements in academic performance, particularly for students who are at higher risk.

There is also evidence in some studies that universal free school meals help improve family food insecurity rates. When a family knows that their child can get breakfast and lunch every day at school, it really allows them to save their food budget to purchase other foods for the house. And that helps them be more food-secure.

What is the role of food banks and pantries in shaping the diet and health of vulnerable children and families?

Within the charitable food system, there’s been a real shift in thinking that has been a change from giving away as many pounds of food as possible to really looking at the nutritional quality of those pounds. That’s thanks in part to Feeding America, which is a national network of food banks, and Partnership for a Healthier America, which is part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative. Both of them are working with food banks around the country to really help them track the nutritional quality of their food and set goals for themselves in terms of maximizing the most nutritious foods they are able to distribute.

Dr. Schwartz is an expert on school wellness and nutrition programs and food insecurity. She's available to speak with media - simply click on her icon now to arrange a time today.

Connect with:
  • Marlene Schwartz, Ph.D.
    Marlene Schwartz, Ph.D. Director, Rudd Center for Obesity & Food Policy (Principal Investigator); Professor, Department of Human Development and Family Studies

    Dr. Schwartz specializes in school wellness and nutrition programs, and food insecurity.

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