By Cindy Long, Administrator, Food and Nutrition Service
Prior to becoming the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Administrator, I spent many years with USDA working in the child nutrition space. I quickly became passionate about my work, recognizing that school meals are critical to children’s success in school and their overall health and well-being. It motivated me then and even more now in my role as Administrator. In this role, I am committed to doing everything possible to ensure children get nutritious meals on a consistent basis, so they can do better in school and support the development of healthy eating habits which sets them up for success!
During the pandemic, we quickly realized how essential it was to keep providing school meals, even as schools were closed. This required herculean efforts and close coordination among schools, city, state, federal partners, volunteers, and anti-hunger organizations. Congress acted to allow all children across the country to temporarily receive school meals at no cost without applications and other complex administrative processes. This year, as schools transition back to pre-pandemic meal operations, some states have continued this model of providing healthy meals for all children.
Maine, Massachusetts, California, Vermont, Nevada, and recently Colorado have found creative and innovative ways to combine state funds with federal funds to provide free school meals for all children and take that burden off parents. A National Strategy was released as part of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health which included a pathway to healthy school meals for all children in the country. This is a top priority for USDA.
Recently, I was in Nevada and met with a group of people passionate about feeding every person in need in Nevada, especially children. I was there to learn more about their journey toward healthy school meals for all meals in schools, and to offer USDA support to keep the momentum going. We met at Three Square Food Bank in Las Vegas. They graciously hosted a roundtable discussion, which allowed me to hear school districts’ and community organizations’ concerns and how USDA can support their efforts. Since that trip, the Nevada State legislature has approved an additional $28M to continue universal school meals for school year 2023-24!
As I travel to other states in the coming months, I will share how Nevada made healthy school meals for all a reality with hopes that others can follow that same path. We all share the responsibility to ensure that children get healthy meals, so they can develop good eating habits at an early age and succeed later in life!