There are several programs, including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP), in place for children to receive healthy meals each day at school. Through these entitlement programs, children become eligible for free or reduced meals based on their households’ incomes. The meals must reach certain nutrition standards to emphasize the importance of a balanced, healthy diet. Currently, 31 million children participate in NSLP and 12.5 million in SBP.
Besides providing food to children who would otherwise go without, the benefits of these meals children are plentiful. Studies show that healthy eating promotes optimal development, reduces the risk of chronic diseases and reduces the risk of obesity. The USDA found that children who participated in NSLP had superior nutritional intake compared to those who did not. In addition to the health benefits, nutritious meals make it easier for kids to concentrate in class, increase attendance, and boost school achievement.
While these programs are beneficial in benefiting those they do reach, there are still areas for significant improvement. With only 62% of the eligible households participating in NSLP, a noteworthy number of children are going through the school day hungry. The aspect that needs the most improvement is SBP. 1 in 8 schools that offer NSLP do not offer breakfast, causing only half of the children who eat free or reduced lunch to eat breakfast. In order to ensure that the needs of all children are met, these programs must be strengthened.
NETWORK supports continued funding for these programs, as they meet the basic needs of American children and often may be the only meals a child eats.