School districts across the country offering universal free lunch options

Starting May 1, community eligibility will be available to schools in all 50 states.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Hunger crises do their greatest damage to those who are already most vulnerable: The poor, the elderly, the disabled, and, of course, children. As a result of America’s present hunger crisis, one-fifth of all households with children are classified as food insecure by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which which defines food security as “access … to enough food for an active, healthy life.”

In total, 8.3 million children in this country are not getting the food they need. At the same time, food stamp cuts have put extraordinary strain on both public and private anti-hunger programs, to the point where even many food pantries and soup kitchens are unable to meet the basic needs of their clients. The food security safety net is fraying to the breaking point.

But there is one notable exception to the overall trend. Even as Congress signs off on billions of dollars in food stamp cuts, the federal government is dramatically expanding its free school meals program. Thanks to a 2010 law championed by first lady Michelle Obama, a growing number of schools across the country are offering free meals to all of their students, regardless of whether those students’ parents applied for the program.

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Ideas and Innovation
vote buttons pins

On every other Thursday of our four-week cycle menu, we allow K-8 students to pick the entree choices. The media center specialist for each of the participating schools sets up the list of entree items on a computer for voting, and the winning entrees are given to cafeteria managers two weeks before the upcoming month to put into production. Students really like this, as it promotes ownership of the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chalkboard

We highlight our North Carolina products on a large chalkboard in our dining halls, and also list any produce we bring in from our own agroecology farm. It helps tell our story—positive and local.

Ideas and Innovation
raised garden beds

We have raised garden beds that residents can reserve and use to grow their own plants. Whenever a resident brings me fresh produce from their own garden, I try and incorporate it into a dish. If I do end up using it, I will display the resident’s name and what the produce was next to the dish on the menu.

Ideas and Innovation
chartwells teaching kids

Curriculum for the mobile teaching kitchen centers around a single kid-friendly recipe, using ingredients that can provide talking points for nutrition, sustainability and food origins. “The recipe is the lesson,” Saidel says. “Every ingredient is an opportunity to talk.”

Earlier this year, Saidel, Perkins and Harvey did a student demo featuring roasted chicken and white bean tacos with greens and citrus salsa. “We can say, ‘Why are we using chicken instead of beef? Why are there some beans in here?’ You can talk about plant proteins and the sustainability and health message around...

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