As Thanksgiving approaches, we look forward to celebrating the holiday with our families, around a table of everyone’s favorite dishes. But what happens for families that struggle to put food on the table during difficult times? As the poverty rate for Nebraska families remains high, so does food insecurity: according to our 2014 Kids Count in Nebraska Report, in 2013 one in eight households in our state wondered at some point in the year where they were going to get their next meal.
When families need a little help putting food on the table, free and reduced-price school meals have proven to be an effective way to fill in the nutritional gap for children. Nebraska’s high-poverty schools have an opportunity to reach even more children with the meals they need to succeed. The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) gives qualifying school districts the resources to offer free breakfasts and lunches for all their students, which eliminates the need for families to pay for their child to participate in school meals, and provides an important safety net for students who may otherwise go without adequate nutrition during critical development years. Because schools qualify for CEP based on the percentage of students who come from families that receive some form of social support such as TANF or SNAP, the nutritional support is going where it is needed.
By adopting CEP, schools can ensure that all their students have access to the healthy meals they need to excel. Research has validated that schools meals are especially beneficial for kids who are food-insecure: a study found that students who were less food-secure got a greater amount of their daily food and nutrition from school lunches than students from food-secure families.
Part of this health boost may be due to the fact that school lunches are often more nutritious than lunches brought from home. Moreover, as we have discussed in a previous post, nutrition from school meals can positively affect students’ health and academic achievement. As a result, both children’s well-being and potential to succeed are supported at school.
Community Eligibility maximizes the nutritional support that schools offer, so that all children in our communities can have the fuel they need to learn and thrive. CEP is a great tool for our schools, and it strengthens the health of families in our community. However, Nebraska’s schools still have a long way to go in adopting Community Eligibility, with only 3% of eligible school districts having adopted the program. We need to reach out to our school districts and tell them why the Community Eligibility Provision is a good deal for them, so that more Nebraska families have a reason to celebrate this Thanksgiving.
Does your school qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision? Find out here!
To get resources for spreading the word about CEP, visit the Food Research & Action Center here.