Healthy School Meals

Providing students with healthy meals at school is a vital part of food security for children and families.

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"Universal school meals should be permanent."

School meals are often the difference between whether or not children have enough to eat on any given day. All schools will be permitted to serve free meals to all students—also known as universal school meals—for the 2021–2022 school year, a product and recognition of the economic and social upheaval caused by COVID-19. But the value of good nutrition to children, families, and schools is long-term and profound. RWJF President and CEO Richard Besser and Senior Program Officer Jamie Bussel explain why universal school meals should be permanent.

Far too many children in the United States face food insecurity, lacking adequate access to affordable and healthy foods. The COVID-19 pandemic and economic recession that accompanied it made matters worse. They have also made clear just how essential school meals are for millions of children and families, and how disruptive it is when access to those meals is cut off. For many young people, school meals can be the healthiest, or even only, food they eat some days. 

Over the last decade, the nation’s school meals programs have taken significant steps to improve the nutrition standards for the foods and beverages they offer students. This shift has provided benefits across the board. Schools that serve the healthiest meals see the greatest participation in meal programs. The meals succeed in reaching those who need them the most. Healthier meals have not cost schools more money. 

Food insecurity disproportionately impacts children and families of color, compounding long-running health disparities. Ensuring that school meals are as healthy as possible, and reach as many children as possible, is a major step toward health equity.

School Meals are Getting Healthier

The nutritional quality of most foods and beverages served and sold in schools improved dramatically between the 2009–10 and 2014–15 school years, according to findings from Healthy Eating Research.

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Latest Content

Creating Healthier Schools Across the Country

Creating Healthier Schools Across the Country

Series//Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program

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Children eat lunch in a school cafeteria.
  1. Children eat lunch in a school cafeteria.

    Creating Healthier Schools Across the Country

    This video series highlights how schools participating in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program are transforming to provide healthier meals and snacks for their students.
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  3. Students at Anne Frank Elementary School in Philadelphia, Pa., describe some of their favorite healthy snacks and share their thoughts about why eating healthy is important.
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Creating Healthier Schools Across the Country

This video series highlights how schools participating in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program are transforming to provide healthier meals and snacks for their students.
This video series highlights how schools participating in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program are transforming to provide healthier meals and snacks for their students.

Creating Healthier Schools Across the Country

This video series highlights how schools participating in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program are transforming to provide healthier meals and snacks for their students.

Learn more

A Focus on Healthy Children

Programs to ensure that all families have the resources they need to foster healthy development from their child’s earliest years.