When all students have access to the healthy school meals they need to grow and thrive - everybody wins!
The pandemic has made school meals free through national waivers. As we work toward recovery from this crisis, we have the opportunity to support children, families, and school nutrition programs by ensuring Healthy School Meals for All remains the new normal across Maryland permanently.
The School Nutrition Programs have always been a vital tool for combating childhood hunger and improving children’s health. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical role of school meals in alleviating childhood food insecurity while also demonstrating the value of offering school meals at no charge to all students.
Not only do school meals help students to perform better academically, but they can also help students develop lifelong healthy eating habits, which lead to positive long-term health outcomes.
The two major barriers to participation in the school meal programs are cost and the stigma associated with being singled out as needing free or reduced-price meals. Creating a system in which all students can access meals at no charge eliminates both of these barriers and increases participation across the board.
The families most likely to accrue unpaid meal fees are often the ones who are living just above the eligibility threshold for free or reduced-price school meals but are still struggling financially. Providing meals at no cost to all students frees both families and schools from the burden of school meal debt and ensures no child falls through the cracks.
By reducing the time needed to be spent collecting unpaid meal fees and school meal applications, school nutrition resources are freed up to be used in other ways, such as improving the program, updating menu options, or investing in local farm to school programs.