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Bringing the Promise of Healthy School Meals to More Children This Fall

Ed. note: This is cross-posted from the United States Department of Agriculture. See the original post here.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 enabled the U.S Department of Agriculture to make historic changes to the meals served in our nation’s schools. Breakfasts, lunches, and snacks sold during the school day are now more nutritious than ever, with less fat and sodium and more whole-grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and low-fat dairy. For many kids, the meals they get at school may be the only nutritious meals they receive that day — and when children receive proper nourishment, they are not only healthier, but they also have better school attendance and perform better academically. It’s not enough, though, to make the meals healthier — we must ensure that children have access to those healthier foods.

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act authorized a program, known as the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), that can help schools achieve their educational goals by ensuring that children in low-income communities have access to healthy meals at school so they are ready to learn. In this program, schools agree to offer breakfast and lunch for free to all students, and cover any costs that exceed the reimbursements from USDA. Designed to ease the burden of administering a high volume of applications for free and reduced price meals, CEP is a powerful tool to both increase child nutrition and reduce paperwork at the district, school, and household levels, which saves staff time and resources for cash-strapped school districts.

Starting this upcoming school year, the program is available to schools across the country. The decision to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision is a local one, and schools must decide for themselves whether this program is right for them. In order to give schools more time to make that decision, we recently extended the deadline to participate in School Year 2014-2015. Last month, USDA announced that schools now have until August 31 to enroll.

State educational agencies and local school districts often use data collected through the National School Lunch Program to carry out certain eligibility requirements for other programs, including Title I for schools serving students from low-income families. The Department of Education recently released guidance highlighting the range of options that schools have for implementing these requirements while also participating in CEP — and many districts already have successfully implemented Title I requirements using data that incorporate Community Eligibility. We strongly encourage schools and school districts that have not yet adopted CEP to review ED Guidance on Community Eligibility and Title I and USDA’s Resources on Community Eligibility, and carefully consider the positive impact that CEP can have for your students, schools, and communities.

This program has already been working in nearly 4,000 pilot schools across the country, some of which are already in their third year of participation and seeing tremendous results. Schools that participated in the pilot phase of this program saw increased participation and revenue from breakfast and lunch programs:

  • In Washington, D.C.’s public schools, Lindsey Palmer, school programs manager for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, outlined why CEP has worked so well for D.C.’s schools; including reduced stigma, reduction in administrative functions, better prediction of federal school meals funding amounts based on previous participation, more resources available to improve the meals and overall program, and better reach to those students who really needed the benefits of the school meal program.
  • In New York, Larry Spring, superintendent of the Schenectady City School District, also offered high praise. His district can better focus efforts on food-insecure students and provide greater access to meals with the help of CEP. According to Superintendent Spring, his schools have enjoyed an increase in attendance since adopting CEP, which generally translates into higher test scores and improved academic achievement.

We want to give every child an opportunity to learn and thrive at school. CEP has the potential to bring the promise of healthy school meals to over 3,000 school districts nationwide. The Departments of Agriculture and Education have been working together to make sure that every eligible school knows about CEP and has the information they need to determine if it is right for them. To learn more visit USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Website. See what others have to say about the program.