Experts and advocates: Let’s make school lunches free permanently

Be sure to check out a brief article on the national food-oriented news website The Counter this morning entitled “The pandemic has made school lunch free for all public school students. Advocates are hoping to make the change permanent.” As journalist H. Claire Brown reports, a growing number of nutrition experts and advocates have concluded that, for a variety of reasons, we should permanently stop charging children — all children — for meals in public schools.

This is from Brown’s story:

“It’s an idea whose time has come,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations at [the School Nutrition Association]. “We’ve had a pilot, we’ve seen it work successfully throughout the pandemic, families have adjusted to the change, and the need now is greater than ever. Once this pandemic passes us, we’re going to continue to face more families struggling in the aftermath of the pandemic, and it’s going to be more important than ever that we make sure children have ready access to healthy school meals.”

The immediate benefits of universal school lunch are obvious: The policy would eliminate school lunch debt, which can prevent students from graduating and send debt collectors after parents. It would ensure that all students can eat breakfast and lunch at school, regardless of whether their families have completed the necessary paperwork. And it would eliminate any stigmas associated with signing up for free or reduced-price meals at school.

Other proponents point out that such an idea has the potential help spur a raft of other improvements to the food distribution system — from combating waste to improving the treatment of food service workers to supporting better farming practices.

Perhaps the most important thing about such a program change, however, would be the long overdue paradigm shift it would represent in our schools. To show you how badly that’s needed, consider that just a few years back, a local conservative think tank published article after article about how — gasp!! — not-so-poor kids were getting free and reduced price school lunches in North Carolina.

This was and is absurd.

As a parent who, while on lunchroom duty at my kid’s school in Raleigh, once watched in horror and embarrassment as an eight year-old was berated for — horrors — forgetting to bring his lunch money for the second day in a row and tossed a dried up PB&J by the people in charge of that school’s program in punishment for his offense, I can attest that the current system is badly flawed.

Simply put: Surely the wealthiest nation in the history of the planet can afford to feed its public school children without forcing kids like that eight year-old (and millions of others like him) to endure unnecessary humiliation and embarrassment.

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