Nearly 13.6 million students are now receiving free breakfast and lunch through the community eligibility program, a federal initiative that has previously been targeted for cuts by Republicans, according to a new report. That figure is a 14-percent increase in the past year alone.
With Congress in the early stages of updating child nutrition programs costing $30 billion a year, researchers say the nutritional quality of school meals increased by more than 40 percent following a 2010 mandate to serve healthier food. The first comprehensive study of the 2010 reforms also found that student participation rates were highest in the schools that served higher-quality meals.
After warning against saddling small schools with big-city regulations, Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts said on Wednesday that Congress could act swiftly on the overdue renewal of child nutrition programs. The programs, headlined by school lunch and WIC, cost $30 billion a year.
Although key lawmakers in the House and Senate support an update of U.S. child nutrition programs, headlined by school lunch and WIC, the timeline for those updates is unclear. “If we can’t go forward, we’ll wait,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow on Thursday, in a reference to disputes over school food standards.
In 2017, on just his sixth day in office, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue made chocolate milk safe for schools again, along with white flour and salt, in the name of “regulatory flexibility” for school food programs. On Thursday, the USDA said it will make those changes permanent.
Among the 40 percent of all food thrown out is this statistic: America’s school lunch programs waste $5 million in food every day. FERN’s latest story, published with Grist, focuses on Nancy Deming of the Oakland Unified School District, a leader in the movement to cut school food waste and redirect the food to students and people in need. Here’s the main take-aways:
Compared to the long-established school lunch program, after-school programs that provide snacks or supper to pupils are tiny. In fact, just 1.2 million suppers, versus 30 million lunches, are served in school each day.
Nearly three-fourths of meals served in school lunch programs — 22 million on an average school day — are eaten by poor children. But when the school year ends, only about one in seven of those children gets a meal through the USDA’s summer nutrition programs.
The USDA’s senior nutrition official, Brandon Lipps, announced an enhanced focus on program integrity for the agency’s 15 public nutrition programs, which include SNAP, school meals, and WIC.
About half as many children take part in the school breakfast program as the more than 30 million who eat a hot meal through the school lunch program, according to USDA's most recent data. The government and the anti-hunger group Food Research and Action Center say that participation in school breakfast grew at a slower rate during the 2016-17 school year than it did in previous years.