Provide free meals for all students, say school food directors

The USDA should extend all school food waivers through the end of the coming school year and make all meals free to students, said the School Nutrition Association in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Thursday. “Schools are considering vastly different learning models for the upcoming school year and urgently need answers now to plan modified school meal service based on what will be permissible under USDA regulations,” said the letter.

The SNA, speaking for school food directors, also suggested that the USDA create an advisory committee that would meet monthly “to provide insight and direction on managing the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on school meal programs.”

With high unemployment rates, schools can expect that far more students will qualify for free or reduced-price meals. “USDA should allow all schools to provide universal meals this coming school year — breakfast and lunch for all students at no charge,” said the letter. “Universal meals during this challenging time will ensure children are fueled for learning, minimize regulatory and paperwork burdens on schools and families, and support efforts to maintain social distancing during meal distribution.” The majority of participants in school lunch and school breakfast qualify for free or reduced-price meals.

The USDA issued several waivers in late winter to make it easier to reach low-income students, such as serving “grab-and-go” meals rather than requiring students to gather in a cafeteria.