Will schools ever provide universal free meals? Now, help is on the way

The Biden Administration aims to give 9 million more children access to healthy food by 2032.

Serving healthy and free school meals to all students is a key pillar of the wide-ranging effort to tackle child hunger.

School meal programs have not yet reached their potential to improve children’s health or reduce hunger, the administration says. A “healthy meals for all” approach would transform school meal programs into an integral part of the school day to “engage children around healthy food,” says the White House’s new National Strategy on Hunger, Nutrition and Health.

School meal programs currently feed about 30 million children and the administration intends to work with Congress to give nine million more children access to free school meals by 2032. To get closer to its goal of “healthy meals for all,” the administration plans to help schools:

  1. Cook more meals from scratch by funding training and equipment purchases.
  2. Buy more local and regional food.
  3. Increase investment in the school nutrition workforce.
  4. Expand nutrition education for children.

Free school meals and physical activity

Food insecurity worsens during the summer as some students also gain more weight when they don’t eat at school—and both issues disproportionately impact Black and Latino children and kids in less affluent families.

The Biden Administration hopes to expand COVID-era summer nutrition programs—also known as Summer Electronic Benefits Transfer—to feed children throughout the calendar year, the Hunger and Nutrition plan says.

On a wider scale, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has launched a $100 million Healthy Meals Incentive to nudge K-12 food suppliers to offer healthier meals and ingredients. This program will provide grants to rural districts to improve nutritional content, recognize innovative school meal programs and disseminate best food service practices. The agency will also work to diversify the pool of companies that supply food to schools.

Because fewer than one-quarter of children ages 6-17 get the recommended amounts of exercise, the overall initiative also aims to promote in- and out-of-school physical activity, which has also proven to improve academic performance. The Department of Education, through its Engage Every Student Initiative, will help educational organizations get more students involved in physical fitness during the summer and in after-school programs.

The administration is also calling on state governments to give children and families free passes to state parks and on local governments to work with the private sector and nonprofits to create shared-use agreements that grant schools access to open spaces, sports facilities, and fields.

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Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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