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Breakfast And Lunch Programs 101

By Kevin Johnson
Food Pyramid -

Where education meets hunger

Feeding America, the United State’s largest hunger-relief charity, released findings indicating that approximately 28.8 million Americans lived in homes that were not sufficiently fed in 2010. These are considered by some to be astonishing statistics given that we live in a developed country where opportunity is reported to be amongst the best in the world. Unfortunately these statistics don’t apply to only self-sufficient adults. Within many of these households are children who are suffering the consequences of poverty alongside their parents. In fact, the organization estimates that 16.2 million children in the United States are living in food-insecure families.

While hunger is a burden in and of itself, these children face the added pressure of not only attending, but keeping up with other children their age in the classroom. Imagine how much more difficult it would be to focus on learning with an empty stomach. Not only is there a physical barrier separating these children from others, but social stigma plays a giant role as well.

While younger children may not understand the implications yet, older elementary children certainly feel a sense of shame when they cannot afford the food that other children can at lunchtime. It is an unjust consequence of living at or below the poverty line, and one that many organizations are stepping in to eliminate for children.

Providing equal opportunities

So how do we go about providing for those children who cannot afford the same nutritional luxuries that others can? In response to the growing number of children who need daily provisions, the government established The National School Lunch Program. This is a federal program that works with each individual state and their respective organizations to establish a standard in school lunch programs. It is an attempt to provide necessary equality with dignity. Participating low-income children are guaranteed a daily meal that will keep them up to speed with those around them and provide for their nutritional needs.

According to the official government count, the program now operates in more than 101,000 public and private schools as well as residential childcare facilities across the nation. According to the most recent statistics, the program provided low-cost or free nutritionally balanced lunches to over 31 million school children each day in 2010.

How does it work?

When schools and organizations across the country work in cooperation with The National School Lunch Program, they are provided with cash subsidies for every meal they serve. Under the terms of the program they are required to serve USDA approved foods. While the program was set up with low-income families in mind, it is not an exclusive endeavor.
Any child that attends school is welcome to a meal, however, children from families that live at or below 130% the poverty level, are able to obtain free meals. Other lunches are provided at a drastically reduced cost.
After school snacks are also a perk within the program. Within the stipulations of this benefit, participating schools can offer reduced cost snacks when the last bell rings. If the percentage of low-income students is significant enough, they may even be able to offer free snacks.

Are all lunches created equal?

The initial program was launched with an overwhelming urgency to feed hungry school children and provide those meals with a sense of dignity. As childhood obesity in America has noticeably increased over the past several years, the focus on these school lunch programs has shifted. There is a new demand for not only providing low-cost or free school lunches, but providing fresh and nutritious meals daily as well.

Americans are starting to recognize just how far-reaching the issue of low-income family hunger can be. It is easy to assume that those who need to be looked after the most vigilantly are elementary-age children who do not know how to care for themselves. While this is true, it does not take into consideration high school students who may be living in equally difficult home situations.

Answering the call

To address the concerns of childhood obesity and age gaps within school-age benefit programs, significant change have been and are continuing to be made. The National School Lunch Program altered its requirements to include children up through the age of 18. This opens up the benefits of basic daily meals and snacks to older students who may be silently suffering as well.
As recently as January of 2012, Michelle Obama announced her intention to make school lunch programs one of her primary focuses in an attempt to fight childhood obesity. Some of the new requirements enforce

  • Increased offerings of whole grain-rich foods
  • Mandatory fruits and vegetable weekly
  • Fat- free or low- fat milk offerings
  • Calorie counts that vary by age.

What about breakfast?

Often considered the most important meal of the day, those same children that aren’t getting lunch are most likely skipping their morning meal as well. That being said, there are several state-sponsored programs that offer a variety of before-school breakfast programs low-income children can attend.

One useful resource schools and child care facilities can utilize is The Lunch Box program. A non-profit organization founded by Ann Cooper, The Lunch Box offers many resources and tools to ensure that all children are provided with healthy and nutritious meals at school. One area the organization promotes is the growth of breakfast programs. Through The Lunch Box, educational facilities are able to apply for grants that would allow them to open before-school breakfast programs.

While there are questions at many school board meetings about whether or not teachers should be required to provide breakfast in addition to academic instruction; the organization runs on the belief that every child deserves a morning meal. Participation varies depending on state regulations, but The Lunch Box actively accepts applications and is in the business of helping schools get programs up and running. In light of these new changes and promotion of before-school programs, do you think the emphasis on healthy and accessible meals in schools will make a difference in the long-run?

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