The healthy development of children is essential to building and sustaining a prosperous society. Still, 1 in 5 North Carolina children face food insecurity each day, which threatens their well-being and life outcomes. Nationally, North Carolina is the 8th most food insecure state in the country, with 1 out of every 6 households being food insecure – meaning these families do not access to food, which is needed to ensure their child is healthy, academically successful, and has sufficient early childhood development.
Food insecure households with children are more likely to have trouble with providing adequate food for the family. For children, poor nutrition is associated with anxiety, diet-related diseases, learning difficulties, health problems, and other poor health outcomes that can affect them throughout their K-12 education journey and as they grow into adulthood.
Addressing North Carolina’s persistent food insecurity challenge requires deliberate attention to the role, design and impact of federal, state and local initiatives that aim to ensure access to food for everyone in communities across the state. The positive link between the health of students and their academic achievement is an opportunity we much seize upon and leverage as a state. Children who eat breakfast perform better on standardized tests and have better concentration in class, increased alertness, improved comprehension, improved memory, and improved learning.
Here are some of the ways in which public policy and initiatives can work to combat child hunger and assist educators with improving the learning outcomes of students.
- The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) is a school meal service option available to high-poverty school districts and schools that provides breakfast and lunch to all students at no cost to students and families. The CEP initiative doesn’t require schools to collect household applications, which reduces administrative costs.
- Free and reduced lunch allows schools to receive federal funds for the meals served. In the 2016-17 academic year, the National School Lunch Program reimbursed schools $3.22 per free lunch served, $2.82 per reduced priced lunch served, and $0.36 cents per paid lunch. The student’s eligibility is determined by family income; however, schools who engage in the CEP can offer meals at no charge to all students, which further increases participation, reduces labor cost, and increases federal revenue.
- Alternative methods of feeding children such as Breakfast in the Classroom, Grab ‘N Go, and Second Chance Breakfast service models help to further increase breakfast participation, as students often do not eat meals served in the cafeteria due to the lack of awareness of school meal programs, lack of time, and the stigma associated with the traditional delivery method that schools use to serve breakfast.
- Making sure food is available at home and on the weekends means ensuring families are signed up for SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) who are eligible and programs like backpack buddies are supported.
Good nutrition is critical to childhood learning and health, yet many start their school day hungry. As we move into the summer months and then begin preparations for another school year, making sure children have access to food should be a top priority. By doing so, we ensure healthier children, help ensure a high quality for all students, and promote life-long learning.
Chanae Wilson is a Public Allies Apprentice with the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the NC Justice Center.