Feeding the Minds of Students: Federally Funded School Lunch Programs & Kids’ Nutrition

School lunches healthy hunger free kids Haunting Stories

When I set my brain free and allow it to roam around in the dark spaces of my thoughts there are a few bits of news articles I've read that come back to haunt me. One such piece was about the unseen who suffered during the blizzards of 2009 in the D.C. area: the poorest students in the school districts.

The article outlined the administrators' concerns regarding these poverty stricken kids and the severe weather that cancelled school for multiple days over several weeks. The problem was that with schools closed many of these kids would probably go without breakfast and lunch on these days. Additionally, a number of these kids typically took home a bag of groceries at the end of each week to supplement weekend meals thanks to an area food pantry of some kind. The administrator interviewed in the article was worried these kids were going hungry by not being able to attend school and receive their free or reduced cost meals.

This floored me and gave me an ache in the pit of my stomach. How is it possible that in the land of plenty, the heavy weight of the world, the home of 8.4 million millionaires there are {literally} millions of kids who would go hungry without subsidized meals at school each day? This has stuck with me and continues to bother me.

Students Living in Poverty

Clearly, it's necessary for our federal government to aid these children living in poverty and provide a nutritious meal or two while they're in the school's care. But just how many meals does the government pay for each year? Well, I did a little more digging into the school lunch issue.

It turns out that for the Fiscal Year 2009 more than 31.3 million children received lunch each day through the National School Lunch Program. The National School Lunch Act was enacted in 1946 and has since served over 219 billion lunches. This program cost $9.8 billion in the Fiscal Year of 2009.

To qualify for a free meal, a child's family's income must be at or below 130 percent of the poverty level. Families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced cost meals and can be charged no more than 40 cents per meal. For July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011, 130 percent of the poverty level translates to $28,665 for a family of 4; and 185 percent is $40,793.

This means that most, if not all, of the Little Village Academy students, on the West Side of Chicago qualify for free or reduced cost school lunches considering Little Village Community residents have a median income of a little over $32,000. And while yesterday's post got a lot of moms riled up over the thought of losing the right to pack their kids' lunches {for good reason}, in the instance of Little Village it might have been a moot point with so many qualifying for the National School Lunch Program anyway.

Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act

With the enactment of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, additional federal funding is authorized for school meal and nutrition programs and access to healthy food for low-income children is increased, but the law is aimed at educating all students about eating nutritional balanced meals, exercising and living a healthy lifestyle. Some of the highlights of this law include:

  1. Giving USDA more authority to regulate food sold in vending machines, school stores, etc. to ensure better food choices for kids at school;
  2. Providing access to more locally grown and produced foods;
  3. Promoting nutrition and wellness through healthy foods, exercise and information;
  4. Increasing the number of children who qualify for school meal programs and making it easier to identify and enroll children in these programs; and
  5. Better program monitoring through audits, training and technical assistance of school lunch programs, etc.

Go to www.WhiteHouse.gov for specific details concerning the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

This 4.5 billion dollar plan will be slowly implemented over the next 10 years. I know there's been a lot of partisan divisions and battles over the federal budget lately, but surely we can all agree that we mustn't let our children go hungry or have little or no access to fresh, nutritious meals.

The Scoop

Our government pays for a large number of school lunches each year, and for good reason. The issue lately has been about the nutritional value of the meals served at schools. The quality of school lunches appears to be quite improved since my school girl days, but I think it's an issue that's more complex than the benefits of serving steamed broccoli rather than tater tots.

This issue is about changing the way we, as a country, eat; not just what students eat one meal a day at school, but everyday at home and at school. This can be achieved by education through the schools for both parents and students.

But the more profound question is how do we ensure the those 31.3 million students living at or under the poverty level in the U.S. today don't end up as the parents of kids who qualify for federally-funded school lunch programs? It's about breaking the cycle of poverty, and that's a tough one that I don't have an answer for ...yet.

What are your thoughts about the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act or the National School Lunch Program? On Saturday, I'll be posting tips for sending nutritious meals to school that your kids will eat and how to get your finicky eaters to broaden their horizons. Tomorrow in Motherly Advice I'll be writing about one of our family's Easter traditions and posting a recipe that's not necessarily nutritious, but is light, fun and definitely food for thought. I hope you'll come back for those. Over and out...


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