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

Your child can now get free school meals through June 30, 2022—even during summer. We want them to get the most out of school meals to ensure they have the proper nutrition for their growing bodies. Read our #CDCHealthySchools blog post below to learn what you can do to make it happen!

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.

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.

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