Free School Meals for All Children

Sound too good to be true? It’s not! Alison Maurice from the Food Research Action Committee (FRAC) explains what the Community Eligibility Provision is, how to tell if your school is eligible, and how to advocate for CEP in your school.

How are schools able to offer meals to all of their students for free?

In the 2016–2017 school year, over 20,000 schools provided free school breakfast and lunch to nearly 10 million children in the United States through the Community Eligibility Provision. Community eligibility allows high-need schools and districts to offer meals at no cost to all students.

Community eligibility has only been available nationwide for three years. In that short time, nearly 55 percent of eligible schools have chosen to use community eligibility, because it increases the number of students benefiting from the school breakfast and lunch programs.

Why are schools so eager to participate in community eligibility?

Because it makes it easy to get meals to students! By offering meals to all students at no charge, community eligibility increases participation among all students which can help school nutrition finances.  Additionally, schools no longer need to qualify students for free or reduced-price school meals. This saves significant time and reduces paperwork for schools, so they can focus more resources on providing healthy meals for your children. Unpaid meal fees are no longer a concern with community eligibility, which decreases stress both on parents and school staff collecting them.

Community eligibility schools have increased participation in the school breakfast and lunch programs. More importantly, more students are eating a healthy breakfast and lunch, reducing hunger and improving nutrition status. School breakfast has shown to improve academic achievement, test scores, and behavior, and to reduce absenteeism and tardiness. Participating in school breakfast allows students to focus on learning, rather than their empty stomachs.

What makes a school or school district eligible?

A school, group of schools, or school district is eligible for community eligibility if at least 40 percent of the students are certified to receive free school meals. Schools identify students who qualify for free meals through other assistance program enrollment. No application is needed to be submitted by parents for schools to determine this.

What can I do to help my school?

On May 1, 2017, your state’s education agencies published a list of schools and school districts that qualify for community eligibility. It is easy to find out if your school or school district is eligible by using the Food Research & Action Center’s Community Eligibility Database. Here you can quickly search for schools by state and district and to determine if your school is eligible and participating or not.

If you find that a school or schools in your school district is eligible for community eligibility but is not using this program, start a conversation with your school administrators and nutrition department. Let them know that you would like them to consider community eligibility. The deadline to apply to use community eligibility in the 2017–2018 school year is June 30, 2017.

Last, but not least, pass these resources along to your school administrators or nutrition department to educate others about the benefits of community eligibility even further:

With these resources, you can help increase access to school meals for all students, giving them much-needed nutrition to succeed.

This blog was prepared by Alison Maurice, Child Nutrition Policy Analyst, at the Food Research & Action Center. For more information, feel free to email Alison at amaurice@frac.org.

Kilgour Elementary: Healthy Food Zone

“Healthy Hands.” Students creating permanent art installations for the cafeteria makeover

Change can be challenging to initiate, especially when you are just one elementary school in a public-school district with over 60 schools. It’s easy to feel too small.

But thanks to our Healthy School Meals grant, Kilgour Elementary School in Cincinnati, Ohio was given an opportunity to stand out and help make change happen. Not only have we been able to take steps to improve the perception of our school meals, we have also been able to create partnerships and momentum to improve our school’s wellness culture.

To help create a positive, healthy-lifestyle atmosphere, this year our school’s cafeteria will host six student-created permanent art installations, as well as a large scale “Farm to School” mural, illustrated by two talented collaborators—a Kilgour parent and school art teacher.

Ever wonder if Kindergartners know how to make a salad? Ours do! Thanks to our “Free Salad Bar Friday’s” every student and staff member can visit the school’s salad bar on Friday and create their very own green masterpiece. Every week over 100 students participate in the free salad bar—students who otherwise would not have the opportunity to experience school meals.

Kindergarten students enjoying “Free Salad Bar Friday’s.”

Growing a positive partnership with our school district’s Food Service Administrative team has given us many opportunities, like bringing in extra salad dressing for students and trying new food items like sweet potato sticks before other schools. Our partnership also has led us to the donation of a Tower Garden growing system to our school, which gives students firsthand experience in growing their own food and creating meals and snacks from the harvest.

Our partnerships have also blossomed in Kilgour Strong Cooking Classes. Local top chefs, in partnership with local distributors, have volunteered their time to help promote school meals. Students in grades 4-6 will be given an opportunity to participate in four free cooking classes, during which they will create a meal served in our school’s cafeteria. These students will be empowered to recreate these meals at home, plus learn why the ingredients are smart choices.

Being one school out of 25 schools awarded the National PTA School Meals Grant reminds us that no matter how small we may feel, we are powerful, we can create change and that we certainly can stand out.

 

Lauren Boehm is a proud mom of a second and third grader, and co-chair of Kilgour Elementary School’s Wellness Committee.