School breakfast and lunch programs improve nutritional health and academic performance, reduce behavior problems, prevent obesity, introduce children to new and local foods, create community at school, and help relieve the family food budget. Hunger Free Vermont assists schools with establishing school breakfast and lunch programs while also working to improve food quality and expand access to this reliable source of nutrition for school age children.
Food insecurity in children is associated with nutrient deficiencies, increased risk for obesity, poor quality diets and poor health, behavior problems, decreased social skills, and academic failure. School-age children from food insecure households have lower grades, more anxiety and aggression, increased grade repetition, greater difficulty getting along with peers, higher absenteeism and tardiness, and more depressive disorders. School meals are the most nutritious and consistent way to alleviate childhood food insecurity, however there are still schools in Vermont that do not offer breakfast and/or lunch to their students. Currently, out of 319 Vermont public schools, 4 schools have lunch, but no breakfast program; 2 schools have breakfast, but not lunch; and 5 schools have neither a lunch or breakfast program (see the list of schools without meal programs here).
In addition to the fact that some schools don't have meal programs, with 98% of Vermont schools now operating meal programs, the more pressing issue is that schools need assistance navigating the cumbersome and complex federal meal program systems. They also need help strategizing ways to increase enrollment in their programs and tips on improving meal quality and incorporating more local foods into their menus.
Currently close to 37,000 children in Vermont receive free or reduced price school meals. Thanks to our work, Vermont is currently ranked 6th in the nation for participation in the school breakfast program. This is largely due to state legislation Hunger Free Vermont helped generate and pass in 2008 that made breakfast free for all low income children in the state. This law catapulted participation in school breakfast programs for reduced-price students by 85%, and improved behavior and academic performance for low income children. The additional state appropriation of $.30 per reduced price breakfast meal served, along with the additional reimbursements generated from an overall increase in school meal participation, has expanded the ability of school meal programs to purchase local Vermont foods, and has led to an increase in school meal quality.
Additional legislation, passed in 2013 and put into effect in the 2013-2014 school year, made lunch free for reduced-price students. Several school meal program directors report that they are seeing an increase in the number of families applying whose income puts them in the reduced-price category, suggesting that the measure is having the intended effect of bringing more low income children into the school meal program.
Our School Meals Expansion Program will continue to work to get all of Vermont schools into a cycle where: higher quality food leads to increased participation, increased participation leads to greater revenue, greater revenue leads to more opportunities to take advantage of local food, which again leads to more participation. When we reach this goal, children develop life-long healthy eating habits, and we help relieve the family food budget.
RESOURCES FOR SCHOOL ADMINISTRATORS AND FOOD SERVICE STAFF
- Visit schoolmealsvt.com
- Sign up for the School Nutrition E-Update
- Application for Free & Reduced Price School Meals