We are thrilled to share the below guest post, authored by No Kid Hungry
During this crisis, school meals can be a valuable source of nutrition and comfort for kids, while alleviating stress for parents who have found themselves juggling new responsibilities or struggling to make ends meet.
“Back to school” this year looked different than it’s ever looked before. Some kids returned to classrooms in masks, sitting at desks that have been carefully arranged to distance students as much as possible. Others continue to learn at their kitchen table, using laptops, tablets and phones.
But one thing remains the same: kids rely on the nutrition they receive from school meals to learn, grow and reach their full potential. And as a result of COVID-19, schools can offer meals free of charge to all students this entire school year. One thing school districts really want parents to know this school year is that school meals really are for all kids and they aren’t in limited supply. In fact, when more kids eat school meals it helps students, parents and the whole school community.
Here are 5 things we want readers to know about school meals:
They can help stretch your families’ limited food budget
Many Americans have lost jobs and wages as a result of the pandemic and are finding themselves struggling to pay their bills and also buy groceries. For some, it’s the first time they’ve struggled to make ends meet and for others this crisis has only exacerbated the financial challenges they were already facing. By providing up to three meals a day for kids, even if they’re not attending school in person, school meals allow parents to stretch their limited food budget. Many families whose children may not have qualified for free school meals before this crisis are finding them to be an important lifeline during these difficult times.
When more kids eat school meals, it helps ensure the programs can continue to serve the kids who need the most.
By accepting free breakfast, lunch and afterschool meals for your kids, you aren’t taking a meal from someone else who might need it more. In fact, the more kids that eat school meals, the stronger the programs. During the coronavirus crisis, the USDA has given schools the flexibility to serve all students and is reimbursing them for each meal served. Higher participation helps compensate for the added cost of adapting these programs to safely reach kids and families during a pandemic.
They create a sense of normalcy for students during a stressful time
These are uncertain times for kids. Many are missing their friends, their afterschool activities and their daily routine. Parents are worried that an ongoing disruption to learning and socialization could cause trauma. By providing a consistent thing kids can look forward to each day that reminds them of a normal school day, school meals can provide a sense of normalcy for students. Even if they aren’t seeing their friends in class or eating together in the cafeteria, knowing that they’re sharing the same meal with their classmates during their lunch break can create a sense of connection.
They alleviate stress for parents juggling enormous responsibility
This is an incredibly stressful time for parents as they try to balance wearing many different hats. With schools and daycares closed or operating limited hours, parents are finding themselves trying to work while also caring for kids at home. For parents that are working from home, that means helping with distance learning between Zoom calls. For essential workers, it means trying to find a friend or family member to watch their kids while they work their shift. Regardless, by taking meal prep off an oftentimes overwhelming to-do list, school meals make it easier for parents already stretched to the brink. And many school districts are now coordinating mealtimes around remote learning schedules, offering meals for multiple days at a time, and offering pick-up windows in the morning and again in the afternoon to make their meal programs more convenient for parents’ schedules.
They help school meal programs stay afloat and keep school nutrition staff employed
School nutrition staff care deeply about feeding kids, but at the end of the day the school meals program is still a business that must stay afloat. Like many other businesses, the pandemic has hurt their bottom line as participation has dropped at the same time they’ve had to invest in equipment to adapt their programs and take new safety precautions. Like many restaurants, some school nutrition departments have had to make the difficult decision to lay off members of their staff because fewer kids are participating in the program. By taking
advantage of the free school meals being offered, you’re helping your school’s food service program compensate for the added expenses and improving job security for the hardworking folks who feed kids in good times and bad.
To learn more about No Kid Hungry, please visit www.nokidhungry.org