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.