PORTLAND, OR - With the start of each new school year, parents focus on making sure their children are well prepared to learn. Shopping lists are often long and especially difficult for families with low incomes. But one item you won’t find on most checklists is a good meal.
Good nutrition is essential for healthy growth and development, and it provides the building blocks kids need to focus and learn in the classroom. Federal child nutrition programs, such as school meals, make all the difference for many, especially families coping with the loss of jobs or housing.
Two new changes this year will make it easier for children to get the nutrition they need:
- School breakfasts available to more children: Oregon legislators eliminated the “reduced price” category for school breakfasts, which will be free for all households earning up to 185% of the Federal Poverty Level (approximately $40,000 for a family of four). Previously, these families had to make a co-payment of up to 30 cents per breakfast, per child (a co-pay is still required for lunch).
- New online applications make it easier: The Oregon Department of Education created a Web site for families to complete school meal applications online, making the process easier for many (paper applications are still available at local schools). https://district.ode.state.or.us/apps/frlapp/default.aspx
Parents are encouraged to complete an application at the beginning of each school year, whether or not they participated in the past. Income or household size may have changed, making children newly eligible for free meals. Families can apply at any time during the school year, but data collected by the end of October becomes particularly important.
In addition to benefiting individual families, information from school meal applications provides a snapshot of a neighborhood’s economic health. By filling out an application, parents help direct needed funds to local schools and neighborhood services. For example, after-school programs can only provide a free meal to students if October data shows that a certain percentage of children qualify for free or reduced price meals.
Children who live in food insecure homes, where the next meal is neither guaranteed nor complete, get sick more often and miss more school. They can also become socially withdrawn, disruptive, or lethargic. Simply put, malnourished children are less prepared to learn, making school meals even more important.
Studies have shown that students who participate in the National School Lunch Program consume less sugar and fat, and eat more fruits, vegetables and dairy than students who do not participate. Last year nearly half of all Oregon students qualified for free or reduced price school meals based on their family’s income. The state is expecting a dramatic increase this year because many families continue to struggle to make ends meet.
Free school meals help kids and local neighborhoods.