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School Meals

School meals are a healthy source of food for tens of millions of kids

For more than 70 years, our nation’s school meals programs have been a lifeline for millions of kids, helping to prevent hunger and provide nutrients that children need to learn and thrive. Today, many kids receive up to half of their daily calories at school and these meals are one of the healthiest and most consistent sources of food for school-age children.

During the pandemic, free school meals were provided for all children. Since that policy expired at the beginning of the 2022-23 school year, student meal debt has dramatically increased, while the percentage of schools participating in school meal programs and the number of children receiving those meals has substantially decreased. To date a handful of states have passed legislation making free school meals for all children permanent, while many others are considering the policy.

In February 2023, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed updates to strengthen school meal nutrition standards, which were last updated in 2012. The proposed changes would:

  • Limit the amount of added sugars for the first time. 
  • Reduce sodium.
  • Encourage more whole grains.

USDA’s proposed rule is available for public comment until April 10, 2023. This is an important opportunity for stakeholders to urge USDA to align school meal nutrition standards with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and ensure that schools have the resources they need to implement the updated standards. To learn more or submit a comment, read the proposed rule.

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Fast Facts

National School Lunch Program
The District of Columbia has the highest percentage of children eligible for free or reduced price lunch, 76.4%.
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National School Lunch Program
3.3 million
Texas has the most children participating in the school lunch program, over 3.3 million
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School Breakfast Program
In New Jersey, 318,981 children participate in the School Breakfast Program
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SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provides short-term financial support to individuals and families furthest from economic opportunity who struggle to afford food.

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