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Why It's Time to Think Universal School Meals for Our Children

Child nutrition programs help our nation’s children get the food they need to learn, grow, and thrive—especially children in low-income households. The largest programs—the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP)—provide nutritionally balanced, free, and low-cost meals to millions of children each day at school. Under the NSLP and SBP, close to 30 million children receive school lunch each day. Schools then receive federal reimbursements for every free, reduced-price, or full price meal served through a fixed reimbursement structure and strict eligibility criteria. And, unlike other district budget items or federal programs, school meals are run like a business and they depend heavily on federal reimbursements for school meals. The long-standing problem of school meal access and reimbursements, lunch shaming, lunch debt, and the stigmatization of children having to prove they are hungry and worthy of meals means millions of children lose out. It’s past time to abandon burdensome reimbursement and eligibility requirements and fully fund universal school meals for every child so that our programs are flexible and robust to meet children’s needs, not the other way around.