For many kids, the lunch served at school is the only meal that they’re going to get for the day. Impoverished families depend on the free lunch that is provided. Unfortunately, things are only going to get worse for many hungry kids as schools deal with lower funding.
The FDA had provided free meals for all kids for the past two years. It was a result of pandemic relief funds. This meant that families who didn’t qualify for free or reduced lunches were still given a financial break.
With inflation rising, many families find it harder to pack a lunch for their kids – or hand them the money necessary to buy lunch at school.
The national school lunch program is responsible for serving over 29 million children each and every day. According to the Education Data Initiative, around 20 million of those lunches are free.
Willow Kriegel is the director of nutrition services for the West Des Moines Community Schools in Iowa. She acknowledges that families are struggling and that things are more expensive. Her school district did a small price increase of 25 cents per meal. It will help a bit, but the cafeterias in her district are still going to be around $109,000 in debt for school meals.
Kriegel has been applying so that some of the schools in her district can get free and reduced lunches. Some were granted – but she is also aware that not all schools will be as fortunate.
School lunch debt across the nation is at around $260 million a year. And some families are paying for the lunches even though they can’t afford them.
Kriegel had hoped that Congress would have extended free meals for all students. With so many families struggling to make ends meet, it would have reduced some of the financial pain of sending kids back to school.
What happens when kids don’t qualify for free lunches and their parents can’t afford the school lunch? Well, it depends on the district. Some kids will go hungry. Other kids will be given a basic sandwich. And some kids will be allowed to “charge” their lunch, requiring their parents to pay for it all in the end.
There’s another problem. As schools deal with less funding, they’re having to get creative with what to feed the kids. That means that kids won’t get the same options that they are used to having – and the food may not be as nutritious as it once was.
The supply chain creates an even bigger problem. As Kriegel comments, “We spend hours a day extra hunting for products and getting outages and shortages and trying to adjust our menus and then that changes. It’s like a ripple effect.”
There is an urge for families to apply for the free and reduced lunch program, even if they don’t think they’ll qualify. It can provide more funding for the schools to ensure that all of the kids are able to eat a balanced meal – at least once a day.
As Diane Pratt-Heavner with the School Nutrition Association says, “No child should have to worry about whether mom and dad completed an application or put money on their lunch account.”
Schools are getting worried about how much debt they can incur before they reach a breaking point. Meanwhile, parents just want to make sure that their kids are being fed – and if it’s healthy, that’s a bonus.
Yet again, Biden’s mistakes with the economy affect Americans from coast to coast.