Jada Curd is a recent high school graduate. Raised by her grandmother, with food always hard to come by Jada’s only daily nutrition for much of her childhood was school meals. She would look forward to Monday mornings so she could eat.
This year, Jada is starting college on a full scholarship, and she acknowledges that she would not be where she is today without school meals. While Jada is an exceptional young woman, her story of food insecurity and the benefits of school meals is not. Consider the following:
• One in eight U.S. children is food insecure, and here in Nevada the figure is one in five.
• There are 55 million U.S. students in school 180 days a year, and 30 million rely on school meal programs for a significant portion of their daily nutrition. In fact, schools provide up to half of the daily nutrition needed by youth.
• A recent Tufts University study indicated that the healthiest meals that children eat are school meals, which provide essential foods that support growth and development including milk/dairy, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and lean protein.
• Often referred to as the learning connection, good nutrition and physical activity enrich a student’s readiness to learn.
Despite these facts, a decline in school meal participation persists. Labor shortages, rising food costs and supply chain challenges, coupled with the return of charging for school meals, have contributed to declines in both school meal participation and student enrollment in many school districts.
A new report from the Food Research and Action Center has found school lunch average daily participation decreased 6.9 percent from April to October 2022. And for every 100 students who participate in school lunch, only 56 are participating in school breakfast.
National nonprofit GENYOUth works to ensure school children thrive by living well-nourished and physically active lives. Through grants and school programs, and with the support of America’s dairy farmers and other like-minded partners, GENYOUth has helped to increase access to vital school meals and nutrition among 41 million at-risk students.
In anticipation of the Super Bowl being played in Las Vegas in February, this week we launched Super School Meals, a community-based initiative that will provide grants to equip over 58 Nevada schools within high-need communities with Grab and Go meal equipment packages.
Grab and Go is a proven solution to increase school meal participation by double digits — up to 27 percent — by offering students the opportunity to easily grab breakfast from carts or kiosk as they enter school, helping to overcome hurdles of time and stigma associate with eating breakfast in the cafeteria.
Along with partners including the Clark County School District, Las Vegas Super Bowl Host Committee, Dairy Council of Nevada and purpose-minded corporate sponsors, Super School Meals will help increase access to more than 12 million school meals benefiting over 45,000 Nevada students.
Our work is more urgent than ever and Grab and Go is just one of the innovative service models we champion to drive higher levels of school meal participation.
• Second-Chance Breakfast is geared to middle and high school students who may not be hungry first thing in the morning, but who are ready to eat breakfast after their first class of the day. They can then focus on their studies until lunchtime.
• Smoothie programs help students get more of the nutrient-rich foods that they under consume, including dairy and fruit, which provides essential nutrients for growth and development. A recent pilot program increased meal participation by up to 25 percent with almost half of the students declaring they would be more likely to choose a school meal if a smoothie were included.
WHAT YOU CAN YOU DO
September is Hunger Action Month, and as Nevada students are back in school, now is the time to step up in support of students’ well-being. We invite Nevada schools to apply for a Super School Meal Equipment Grant, and Nevada residents to nominate their local school to apply for a grant, by visiting GENYOUthNow.org.
The school building, where nutrition and learning go hand in hand, is where the most powerful wellness-promoting solutions are often found. Learn more and get involved to ensure that the only hunger that a child should have is the hunger to learn.
Ann Marie Krautheim, MA, RD, LD is chief executive officer of GENYOUth, a national nonprofit founded by America’s Dairy Farmers and the NFL, dedicated to creating healthier school communities.
Donna Martin, EdS, RDN, SNS, is a leading school nutrition authority and past president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. She serves on GENYOUth’s board of directors.