The number of students participating in school breakfast and lunch increased significantly during the 2021–2022 school year, a new report by the Food Research and Action Center reveals (FRAC).
Just over 15.5 million children received a breakfast, and 29.9 million children received a lunch on an average day during the 2021–2022 school year. This represents an increase of 1.6 million children participating in school breakfast, and 10.1 million participating in school lunch compared to the 2020–2021 school year.
Breakfast and lunch participation during the 2021–2022 school year was also higher than that of pre-pandemic levels. Just over 866,200 additional children participated in breakfast when compared to 2018–2019, and 1.4 million additional children participated in school lunch.
The report’s authors note that schools’ ability to offer universal free meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) pandemic-era waivers and students returning to in-person instruction are likely the reason behind the increase in participation.
“This sharp increase in participation demonstrates what is possible when meals are provided to all students at no charge and children are back in school,” Luis Guardia, president of FRAC, said in a statement. “Congress must build on this lesson learned and make healthy school meals for all a permanent reality for all children across the country.”
While the USDA waivers expired last June, some states, such as Nevada and Massachusetts, have decided to continue temporarily offering universal free meals. Several other states also have active bills that would provide free school meals to all.
Although breakfast and lunch participation both saw increases during the 2021–2022 school year, lunch participation was greater than that of breakfast. The ratio of children participating in school breakfast to children participating in school lunch was 51.8 per 100 during the 2021–2022 school year, compared to the ratio of 70.5:100 seen during the 2020–2021 school year.
The report’s authors believe that the lower increase in breakfast participation may be due to barriers such as bus schedules and the timing of breakfast service.