USDA Lifts Up School Meals Successes in Celebration of National School Lunch Week, Farm to School Month
States and schools across the nation are improving meal quality and expanding meal access.
WASHINGTON, Oct. 13, 2023 – This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) joined students, parents/caregivers, schools, communities, and partners across the country in recognizing National School Lunch Week, as proclaimed by President Biden. October is also Farm to School Month, which recognizes the benefits of incorporating healthy, locally grown foods into school meals.
“School meals are the main source of nutrition for nearly 30 million children each school day,” said Deputy Under Secretary of Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services Stacy Dean. “USDA applauds the school nutrition professionals, teachers, farmers and producers, and other community heroes who make it their mission to nourish students in the classroom and lunchroom. The Biden-Harris Administration will continue to invest in our nation’s future by supporting programs and efforts that improve the health and well-being of our children.”
USDA is pleased to highlight some of the many success stories across the country of schools creatively leveraging resources – both their own and USDA’s – to help children reach their full potential through nutritious school meals.
Improving the Quality of School Meals
Patrick Leahy Farm to School Program
USDA continues to support fresh and local meals in all child nutrition programs through the Patrick Leahy Farm to School Program, including awarding $10.7 million to support 103 grantees’ farm to school projects earlier this year. Applications for the next round of Farm to School Grants are open now through Jan. 12, 2024. To receive updates on the Patrick Leahy Farm to School Program and applications for the grants, subscribe to The Dirt, the program’s monthly e-newsletter.
Success Story: Children in Hillsborough County, Florida can access homegrown, nutritious school meals thanks to strong partnerships with local farmers. Because the school district uses the Community Eligibility Provision, commonly known as CEP, these meals are served without the need for families to fill out applications. Read their story.
Equipment Assistance Grants for the National School Lunch Program
This year, USDA awarded $30 million to help school districts nationwide purchase equipment to prepare and serve nutritious meals that meet the department’s nutrition requirements. These investments also make it easier for schools to incorporate fresh foods into their cooking, such as those provided through Farm to School programs.
Success Story: Carroll County Schools in Kentucky received an Equipment Assistance Grant from the Kentucky Department of Education that allowed them to replace their kitchen ovens – in service for over 25 years – with new and improved ovens that cook more efficiently. This allowed them to include more local foods into their delicious school meals. Learn more.
Expanding Access to School Meals
Community Eligibility Provision
Last month, USDA announced a final rule that gives an estimated 3,000 more school districts in high-need areas the option to serve healthy school meals to all students at no cost. This option is possible through the Community Eligibility Provision, when state and local funds are available to meet the additional costs that are not covered by federal funds. In school year 2022-23, 19.9 million students benefitted from CEP in more than 6,400 school districts nationwide.
School nutrition leaders from across the country tout the positive results of offering their students school breakfast and lunch at no cost:
“CEP has transformed the landscape of school meal programs in West Virginia for the better. With CEP, more students are participating in school meal programs, and when meals are free and readily available, there are no financial barriers to accessing nutritious food. This increased participation in school breakfast and lunch has had positive implications for students' health, well-being, and academic participation. Additionally, the momentum from CEP has motivated our communities to ensure our kids are fed outside of school by supporting school-based food pantries and backpack programs.” – Amanda Harrison, director, Office of Child Nutrition, West Virginia Department of Education
“The New Mexico Public Education Department’s work with CEP has assisted in the implementation of universal free meals in New Mexico. Over the past few years, our poverty numbers increased, which has led to the increase in schools participating in CEP. CEP has been instrumental in allowing over 80% of New Mexico’s highest poverty schools and districts to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all enrolled students without collecting household applications.” – Michael Chavez, director, Student Success and Wellness Bureau, New Mexico Public Education Department
FNS Administrator Cindy Long notes “While there is still more work ahead to ensure every K-12 student in the nation can access healthy school meals at no cost, each state that takes any action to expand access to school meals moves us closer towards that goal.”
Healthy School Meals for All
Eight states have taken permanent actions to make sure hunger is not a barrier to children’s success. California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Vermont passed state laws allowing their schools to serve healthy school breakfasts and lunches to all their students at no cost.
Direct Certification for Medicaid Demonstration Projects
USDA continues to expand its Direct Certification for Medicaid Demonstration Projects, which ensure that eligible children in households receiving Medicaid benefits automatically receive free or reduced price school meals without their families completing an application. The demonstration projects have been implemented in 38 states, and USDA will invite more states to participate. In school year 2019-20, 1.4 million students received free and reduced-price school meals thanks to direct certification through Medicaid.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service works to end hunger and improve food and nutrition security through a suite of 16 nutrition assistance programs, such as the school breakfast and lunch programs, WIC and SNAP. Together, these programs serve 1 in 4 Americans over the course of a year, promoting consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe, and affordable food essential to optimal health and well-being. FNS also provides science-based nutrition recommendations through the co-development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. FNS’s report, “Leveraging the White House Conference to Promote and Elevate Nutrition Security: The Role of the USDA Food and Nutrition Service,” highlights ways the agency will support the Biden-Harris Administration’s National Strategy, released in conjunction with the historic White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in September 2022. To learn more about FNS, visit www.fns.usda.gov and follow us:
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