A report from the Center on American Progress, a leading think tank, has revealed that providing every student with free breakfast and lunch is the answer to ending student hunger.
The study found that students receiving free meals at school, regardless of their income bracket, is the solution to eradicating hunger and ensuring optimal nutrition intake for learning.
Universal Free Meals: A Response To The Pandemic And Beyond
As part of measures taken during the pandemic, Congress briefly made universal meals complimentary for all students. The program granted all students access to free meals for over a year before being discontinued in 2022 in several states.
According to CNN, Connecticut and Pennsylvania now provide free breakfasts this school year. As of September, nine states, including Michigan, Minnesota and Colorado, are implementing universal free lunches this year.
These states believe that free meals are a step in the right direction and will positively impact students’ well-being in all cases.
Federal Adjustments Aim To Expand Access To School Meals
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s updated guidelines, schools where 25% of families benefit from programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program will be provided with federally funded meals.
This adjustment brings 3,000 more school districts into the program, impacting approximately 5 million students. Federal officials stated these statistics in a press meeting. Before the update, the percentage of families who qualified for free meals had to be at least 40%.
Quality Concerns And Calls For Inclusivity In School Menus
While meals are free, there has been concern over the choice of food offered to the students.
Important concerns about meal quality post-pandemic have emerged from Greeley-Evans Weld County School District 6 in Colorado.
The school has been a pioneer in serving free meals for three years, but now things have changed. Feedback from students indicates a shift towards more processed and unhealthy food options like nuggets and hot dogs post-pandemic.
Students expressed their concern over the quality of the food, particularly their breakfast. They also felt that in the past, they seemed to have more variety, but as of late, the food has been the “same stuff,” which is “always packaged.”
Recommendations For Diverse And Nutritional School Menus
Students also expressed disappointment regarding the ignorance of their religious and cultural values.
Many students are Jewish and Muslim; hence, they do not eat pork. Similarly, many Catholic students do not consume meat on Fridays before Easter. Unfortunately, the school districts seem to be ignorant of these facts and come off as disrespectful to their values.
The study from the CAP recommends that federal guidelines should be expanded to incorporate meat-free and culturally diverse foods that fulfill nutritional requirements adequately.
Lunch Hour: Is It Long Enough For Students?
Another question the study wanted to answer was whether the students had enough time to eat.
Interestingly, survey data from the Ed Week Research Center this summer found that over 90% of educators believe that students require at least half an hour to eat.
The majority of students and staff members agreed to this notion and stated that they would like their lunch breaks to be elongated.
CAP’s report advises the federal government to grant students 20 minutes of eating time with adequate nutritional meals and portable-wrapped breakfast options that can be eaten on the go to save time.
Legislation And Criticism: The Road Ahead
But is it fair to make taxpayers pay for meals for students from middle- and upper-income households?
Jonathan Butcher from the Heritage Foundation feels it is not.
While Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ilhan Omar have introduced legislation advocating for universal free meals, critics like him argue against the expansion of this program.
He emphasized that the primary intent of the program was to aid students in dire need, and extending it to all students would only result in overburdening taxpayers to subsidize meals for the affluent.
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This article was produced by TPR Teaching.
Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.