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National School Lunch Week

CC by 2.0 via flickr user USDA.gov

CC by 2.0 via flickr user USDA.gov

This week, we are joining President Obama, schools, communities, and advocates across the nation in celebrating National School Lunch Week. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was created 70 years ago as lawmakers recognized that child nutrition, particularly throughout the school day, was a top national priority. Most importantly, the NSLP and its newer counterparts, such as the School Breakfast Program and Summer Food Service Program, provides free or subsidized meals to children from low-income households. School nutrition programs, alongside other federal nutrition assistance programs, are crucial in mitigating the adverse outcomes associated with childhood hunger.

Research and conventional wisdom shows that hunger is a significant barrier to learning and academic performance.[1] There is much to celebrate about the NSLP as an invaluable fixture in Nebraska schools and communities; in SY 2013-14:

  • Nearly 45% of enrolled students eligible for free or reduced-price meals[2]
  • About 90% of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals participating in NSLP[3]
  • Almost 2.5 million lunches served to children from low-income families
  • Nearly $60 million in federal reimbursements for lunches served

The program provides vital enrichment and benefits to schools and local communities at a relatively low cost to the state, with state funds accounting for less than 0.3% of total program funding.[4] Federal reimbursements are higher for free and reduced-price meals served in schools, ensuring that robust meal programs exist in high-poverty schools that already face a number of day-to-day challenges.

The current body of research on childhood hunger suggests that breakfast is a particularly important tool in improving behavior and classroom performance in children.[5] Unfortunately, both the provision of breakfast in schools and student participation in breakfast in Nebraska is one of the lowest in the nation, with only about 40 free and reduced-price eligible students participating in breakfast for every 100 participating in lunch. This represents a major missed opportunity in supporting our classrooms in the state, and in the receipt of nearly $10 million in additional federal reimbursements across the state if the breakfast to lunch ratio increased by three-quarters.

The good news is that there are a number of options available to schools and districts that want to increase breakfast participation for the benefit of their students. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a new federal option, allows certain high-poverty schools to provide universal free breakfast and lunch to all students without collecting school meal applications. Learn more about CEP and find out if your school or district is eligible here.

[1] Howard Taras, “Nutrition and Student Performance at School,” J Sch Health 75, no. 6 (2005):199-213.

[2] Voices for Children in Nebraska, Kids Count in Nebraska Report 2015, 37.

[3] “Table 204.10,” Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics.

[4] Kids Count in Nebraska Report 2015, 37.

[5] Katie Adolphus, Clare L. Lawton, and Louise Dye, “The Effects of Breakfast on Behavior and Academic Performance in Children and Adolescents,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 7(2013): 425.

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