After-school meal participation drops for the first time since 2010

The return to pre-pandemic operations, rising costs and labor struggles all likely played a role in the lower participation rate, a new report by the Food Research and Action Center reveals.
Cafeteria trays full of food
Participation in after-school supper had been rising since 2010, according to the report. | Photo: Shutterstock

Less students are participating in after-school supper, according to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC)

Over 1.15 million students received an after-school supper during an average school day in October 2022. This represents a 23% decrease in participation when compared to October 2021, when 1.49 million students received an after-school supper. 

Participation in the after-school meal had been growing since 2010, according to the report. 

During the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced waivers to allow all communities to serve after-school suppers. Previously, access to after-school supper was limited to communities where at least 50% of the student body qualified for free or reduced-price meals at school.

The report’s authors credit the expiration of those waivers just before the 2022-2023 school year as one of the main reasons after-school supper participation dropped in October 2022. Rising food costs and labor shortages also likely played a role in the decrease, they noted.

“With the return to pre-pandemic operations, many after-school programs and meal sponsors continued to struggle with staffing shortages and increased food prices,” the report’s authors wrote. “Many after-school programs have either closed or had to limit capacity during the pandemic and have not been able to fully recover.”

While overall participation in after-school supper dropped nationwide, 33 states, including Arkansas, Illinois and Pennsylvania, did increase their after-school supper participation rate when comparing October 2022 to October 2021. Nine of these states grew their participation by more than 30%.

After-school snack participation has also fallen. During an average day in October 2022, almost 1.19 million students received an after-school snack through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) or the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). In 2019, 1.4 million students received an after-school snack.

The report’s authors note that a variety of initiatives could be implemented to increase after-school meal access. They cite increased funding for after-school meals and eliminating the requirement that only low-income communities can offer supper as two major ways to reach more students.

“After-school meals faced setbacks at a time when children urgently needed access to afterschool programming to help overcome the educational, health, and social and emotional impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Luis Guardia, president of FRAC, said in a statement.  “As children and their families recover from the fallout of the pandemic, substantial investments are needed to bolster their access to after-school suppers and snacks, and programming, to fuel their health and learning.”



More from our partners