An initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

School Meal Programs Recommendations

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation offers the following recommendations to strengthen school meal programs.

School Meals


November 15th, 2022


  • Make healthy school meals for all children permanent at the federal level. Until then, state-level policies will support access for as many children as possible. 
  • Finalize the proposed rule to align more closely with the current dietary guidelines by implementing the limits on added sugars and sodium on a faster timeline. 
  • Ensure schools and districts have adequate training and technical assistance, consistent messaging, and access to updated school kitchen equipment in order to provide healthier meals. 
  • Reevaluate and regularly increase meal reimbursement rates, taking into account inflation, supply chain issues, and other challenges schools experience. 
  • Engage with industry providers to ensure that palatable products are made available that meet these standards and are affordable at the available reimbursement rates. 
  • Monitor and evaluate the impact of these updates on school revenue, policies, operations, and student outcomes. 
  • Advocate for policies to incentivize local food and values-based purchasing to support meal quality and culturally-relevant school meals that benefit everyone who gets school food to the table. 
  • If expanding access to free school meals to all students is not feasible in the near term, states can take additional steps to increase meal access: 
    • Eliminate the “reduced-price” meal category, which will allow students eligible for reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program to get free meals rather than pay 40 cents for lunch and 30 cents for breakfast.  
    • Establish state subsidies for CEP to ensure all CEP meals are reimbursed at the “free rate.” These subsidies allow schools eligible for CEP to provide free meals to all students while alleviating the financial burden. This is even more important now that the USDA lowered the threshold for CEP eligibility.

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