Getting the Most From School Meals—How Parents Can Help

Have you heard? Nutritious school meals are free for all children through June 30, 2022.

On a regular school day, millions of students have access to nutritious meals through school meal programs including the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. Sadly, a recent report from the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) revealed in April 2020 alone, 54 school districts across 28 states and the District of Columbia served 21 million fewer breakfasts and 44 million fewer lunches when compared to October 2019. The fact is that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to increase food insecurity.

But there’s good news too! In response to concerns that children were missing out on nutritious meals, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the extension of meal service flexibilities. This means schools can now safely offer free school meals to all children, regardless of household income, through June 2022. This includes during summer break. Families should check with their school districts for more information on getting these free meals.

What’s in a School Meal?

You may be wondering what is included in these free breakfasts and lunches. The meals served through these programs must meet specific nutrition requirements, including serving fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and milk. In fact, a recent study from Tufts University found that among children in the United States, foods consumed at schools had the highest overall diet quality of any other food source.

Although these foods are healthy, some children may be hesitant to try the food from school because it may be unfamiliar, or they are just not interested in eating certain foods, like vegetables. Sound familiar? Rather than seeing food go to waste and your child or children not getting the proper nutrition for their growing bodies, you can take steps to encourage healthier eating.

Three generation family washing vegetables in the kitchen

Model healthy eating at home. Reinforcing healthy behaviors both in and out of school is key. Try some of these tips to make it happen:

  • Review school menus with your child and encourage them to try new food items. Use this as an opportunity to talk to your child about what they will be served, and the nutrients provided by the different foods.
  • Get your kids involved in meal planning at home and let them pick a new vegetable or fruit to try each week. This is a great opportunity to have older children research different options for using the fruit or vegetable in a meal.
  • Got a green thumb? Plant a garden at home, or volunteer to help with a community or school garden.

Get involved in school health activities. Although opportunities to get involved may vary in each community as schools work to safely reopen, consider some of these ideas you might be able to participate in to help create a healthier school:

  • Join the school or district committee (wellness committee) that sets the policies for health and wellness.
  • Eat school breakfast or lunch with your child.
  • Offer to help with taste tests or other nutrition promotion activities in the school cafeteria.
  • Talk with the school cafeteria manager about items you would like to see served.

Note: If your child has special nutritional needs—such as allergies, sensitivities, or restrictions due to a medical condition, talk to your school’s cafeteria manager about meal modifications for your child.

More Information:

Research shows that students who participate in the school meal programs consume more whole grains, milk, fruits, and vegetables during meal times and have better overall diet quality, than nonparticipants.(1,2) And, eating breakfast at school is associated with better attendance rates, fewer missed school days, and better test scores.(3–6)

  1. Fox MK, Gearan E, Cabili C, et al. School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study, Final Report Volume 4: Student Participation, Satisfaction, Plate Waste, and Dietary Intakes. Alexandria, VA: US Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Office of Policy Support; 2019. https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/SNMCS-Volume4.pdf. Accessed June 1, 2021.
  2. Kinderknecht K, Harris C, Jones-Smith J. Association of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act with dietary quality among children in the US National School Lunch Program. JAMA. 2020;324(4):359–368.
  3. Murphy JM, Pagano MR, Nachmani J, Sperling P, Kane S, Kleinman RR. The relationship of school breakfast to psychosocial and academic functioning. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1998;152:899–107.
  4. Murphy JM, Pagano M, Bishop SJ. Impact of a universally free, in-classroom school breakfast program on achievement: results from the Abell Foundation’s Baltimore Breakfast Challenge Program. Boston, MA: Massachusetts General Hospital; 2001.
  5. Murphy JM, Drake JE, Weineke KM. Academics and Breakfast Connection Pilot: Final Report on New York’s Classroom Breakfast Project. Albany, NY: Nutrition Consortium of New York; 2005.
  6. Myers A, Sampson A, Weitzman M, Rogers B, Kayne H. School Breakfast Program and school performance. Am J Dis Child. 1989;143:1234–9.

Celebrate Global Handwashing Day, October 15, 2018!

October 15, 2018, marks the 11th annual Global Handwashing Day. This observance increases awareness and understanding of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent disease around the world.

Handwashing is simple, inexpensive, and can dramatically reduce the number of young children who get sick. Educating students on the importance of handwashing with soap and key times for when and how to wash hands properly is essential to preventing diseases like cold and flu. Together, parents, teachers, and school administrators have the power to create a culture of handwashing in schools that can help improve attendance by keeping everyone healthy.

Here are some easy ways your school can participate in this year’s campaign:

1)      Join the CDC social media campaign – Post a photo of yourself or others showing your clean hands using the hashtag #HandwashingHeroes. Check out the campaign webpage for more details.

2)      Tune in to CDC’s Facebook Live – CDC will host a Facebook Live presentation on Global Handwashing Day at 11 a.m. EDT. During this presentation, a CDC expert will talk about the importance of handwashing and give a live handwashing demonstration on how to properly wash hands with soap and water.

3)      Order free posters Remind school children to fight off germs by washing their hands. Display the posters in highly visible public areas, such as schools bathrooms, work areas, and restrooms.

4)      Promote on social media – Visit the social media library to share some of our sample social media messages and use the #GlobalHandwashingDay hashtag to help promote the observance day. You can also create your own messages.

5)      Use web content syndication – Add the latest content from CDC’s Handwashing website to your organization’s website. The content is automatically updated when CDC updates it, so your content will always be current and accurate.

6)      Share Health Promotion Resources

ü  CDC Wash Your Hands Feature

ü  Buttons and badges

ü  Posters

ü  Fact Sheets

ü  Podcasts

Visit CDC’s webpage on Global Handwashing Day more information. Thanks for your support in helping to raise awareness of the importance of handwashing!

 

 

Protect Your Child from the Flu

The Flu I.Q. widget is an interactive quiz to test your flu knowledge. The end of October often means one thing to children and families: Halloween. But it’s hard to enjoy costumes and candy if you’re stuck in bed with the flu. Seasonal influenza usually begins to increase in October, most commonly peaks between December and February, and can continue as late as May. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months and older receive a flu vaccination every year. If you or your loved ones have not gotten a flu vaccine yet, now is the time!

Sadly, about 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of flu complications each year. Even older children, particularly those with chronic diseases such as asthma, are at high risk for developing serious complications from the flu, like pneumonia. Schools are prone to flu outbreaks. School-age children often catch the virus because they have poorer hygiene and are in close contact with one another. When children are not vaccinated, they are more likely to get the flu and spread it to others in their classroom and community.

New vaccination guidelines from CDC aim to ensure your children receive the best protection available for their age group. CDC now recommends the nasal spray flu vaccine for healthy* children 2 through 8 years old who have no contraindications to that vaccine. However, if the nasal spray vaccine is not immediately available, do not hesitate to get the flu shot for your child. Some children 6 months through 8 years of age need two doses of flu vaccine. The first dose “primes” the immune system and the second dose—which should be given at least 28 days after the first—provides immune protection. Getting only one dose when your child actually needs two provides reduced or no protection, so be sure to get the second dose if it’s recommended. Speak with your pediatric health care provider to find out whether two doses are recommended for your child.

The CDC recommendation for yearly flu vaccination does not only apply to children. As a parent or caregiver, you should get a flu vaccine and make sure that others who have close contact with your children also get vaccinated each year. In addition, CDC encourages your family to take everyday preventive actions to help stop the spread of germs like flu and other respiratory viruses like enterovirus D68, which has been causing severe illness in many children, especially those with asthma, this year.

Help your trick-or-treaters stay healthy this season and ask your child’s health care professional about flu vaccines today!

*“Healthy” in this instance refers to children 2 years through 8 years old who do not have an underlying medical condition that predisposes them to influenza complications.