SNA: Participation up as economy falters

Number of free- and reduced-priced meals increase, too.

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—More students are participating in school meal programs, and economic woes are a major contributor to that increase, according to a report released by the School Nutrition Association.

The survey, “Saved by the Lunch Bell: As Economy Sinks, School Nutrition Program Participation Rises,” analyzed data from 137 school districts across the country.

The survey found that overall meal participation this year is higher than in the 2007-2008 school year, with 60% of districts surveyed reporting lunch program increases and 69% seeing boosts in breakfast participation. The most frequently cited reasons for the enlargement in program participation were: increased free and reduced applications (85%), more families trying to save money (61%), appeal of school lunch/school breakfast programs (39%), higher enrollments (28%) and increased amount of students purchasing paid lunches (25%).

School districts also reported more students participating in free- and reduced-priced meals. Seventy-nine percent of districts reported an increase in free meals purchased, while nearly 65% saw more reduced-priced meals purchased. The average increase in participation in the free- and reduced-priced participation was 2.5%, meaning 425,000 more meals were served under the program.

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