The COVID-19 pandemic radically shifted how child nutrition programs operate, with school nutrition professionals working tirelessly to feed kids under emergency conditions with limited resources. One clear takeaway for school nutrition professionals is that universal school meals are a necessity—one that lets them focus on nourishing kids without the administrative burden that comes with manually verifying each student for free or reduced-priced meals. With this previous system, only certain income-eligible students received free or reduced-price meals, but this was restrictive and never provided meals to all in need. Before the pandemic, school nutrition programs also did not have the adequate resources they needed to maximize the benefits of these crucial programs. Finally, the pandemic highlighted the urgency of moving toward a more resilient local food supply that builds racial and social equity.
A policy of universal school and early care and education (ECE) meals for all kids, embedded with the core values of farm to school, has the potential to radically transform our food system for the better.