Guest post by Alison Maurice
Across the country, schools are celebrating National School Lunch Week—a time to shine a light on the important role school lunch plays in supporting students’ academic success and health.
School breakfast and lunch keep hunger at bay, providing the fuel to keep students learning throughout the school day. But for various reasons, too many secondary school students miss out on the academic and health benefits that school meal programs provide.
In 2016, nearly 23 million low-income students ate lunch at school, making up 73 percent of all students participating in the National School Lunch Program. School lunch reduces food insecurity, improves dietary intake, positively impacts health and obesity rates, and builds a better learning environment in schools.
Community eligibility is a federal provision that allows high-poverty schools to offer lunch and breakfast to all students at no charge, increasing participation and eliminating the stigma that only “poor kids” participate. If you lead a school with high concentrations of low-income students, find out if community eligibility is a good fit for your students and school.
Other important strategies principals can use to increase school lunch participation include ensuring students have enough time to get through the lunch line and eat, scheduling recess before lunch, and engaging students in their menu options.
Principals can do their part to increase student access to school meals by partnering with their school nutrition department and students. With strong principal leadership, the lunchroom can be a place that offers free meals to all students and gets students excited to eat school lunch with their friends. Strengthening school meal programs ensures that your low-income students have access to the nutrition they need to thrive in and out of the classroom.
Alison Maurice, MSW, is a child nutrition policy analyst at the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC).