The End of the School Year Doesn’t Mean the End of Good Nutrition

fruits-and-veggies_largeWith the school year coming to an end, working parents must think of alternative plans for their children during summer vacation. This can be a challenging time for low-income families who need to replace the social and academic stimulation that school provides, as well as the free or reduced-cost meals for which their children qualify.

A school-based summer camp offering a summer meal program may be a good option for some families. The federally funded Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) covers the cost of healthy meals to children and teens (younger than 18 years of age) in low-income areas, primarily during the summer months. The meals provided through this program meet federal nutrition standards that include fruits and vegetables, milk, and key nutrients.

Poor nutrition during the summer months may contribute to lower performance in school, make children more prone to illness, and contribute to other health issues.

Latina_ChildObesity_560_292SFSP can help families ensure that their children eat healthy food during June, July, and August. Any child attending a school that provides breakfast and lunch can participate at the full-price, reduced-price, or free levels, depending on income. After-school and summer programs in low-income areas can receive funding to provide free meals to all children attending the school.

The benefits of these programs are many, yet currently they only serve a fraction of children who need access to healthy meals. The programs that run during the summer months reach only one in eight low-income children who qualify, and the School Breakfast Program reaches only half of those who receive school lunches. We can do better than this. There are steps we can take to build participation and make sure more children benefit from these nutrition programs.

Child  in the gardenFirst, more after-school and summer programs need to participate in the nutrition programs.  Typically, participation requirements are broad: eligible programs include those located in areas where 50 percent or more of children qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, and any school, local government agency, or private nonprofit that meets the eligibility requirements and can follow the program rules.

The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) provides information and materials that can help organizations start and maintain successful summer programs. Other materials including application guidelines and forms can be found on the U.S. Department of Agriculture website.

NCLR works to improve nutrition in the Latino community by increasing access to federal food assistance programs, resources, and education that ensure families can meet at the dinner table for a healthy meal. Our work with FRAC promotes school breakfast, after-school, and summer meals to Latino communities throughout the United States. This partnership is supported by the ConAgra Foods Foundation and includes three other national partners: the Afterschool Alliance, the National Recreation and Park Association, and the National League of Cities.

Want Latino Students to Succeed? Help Them Start the Day Right

fruits-and-veggies_largeWith Mother’s Day around the corner, we would do well to remember a piece of advice that mothers have given their children for years: eating breakfast is the best way to start your day.

Teachers echo this sentiment, knowing firsthand how hard it is for children to pay attention when they are hungry. For some families, a rushed morning schedule means children don’t eat before they head to school. For others, a tight budget means there simply isn’t enough food for breakfast every day.

A study by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) examines participation in the School Breakfast Program, which provides free and reduced-cost morning meals to children from low-income and poor families. The study suggests that this program is underutilized, despite the fact that nine out of 10 schools offering free lunches also offer free breakfasts. For every 100 children enrolled in the School Lunch Program, only about 53 also receive a free breakfast.

An NCLR policy brief shows that Latinos make up a large share of children (more than one-third!) who are eligible for free or low-cost school meals but are not receiving them. Barriers include lack of language access or transportation, and concerns or confusion about application requirements. Given that school-based meals increase children’s energy and help them take in sufficient nutrients, it is of great concern that so many qualified Latino children who need free meals are missing out.

ACAdiabetesblog_pic1_resizedThe FRAC study highlights best practices that schools use to help more children start the day off right. Schools with the highest participation rates make breakfast easy and convenient: they provide classroom delivery for meals eaten during morning announcements, grab-and-go bagged meals to be eaten on the run, and a “second chance” breakfast service after the first period of class.

Even better are the schools that offer free breakfast to all students, although this is a benefit offered primarily by large schools with a majority low-income student body. Families at these schools do not have to worry about requirements or fill out paperwork, nor do their children need to arrive early in order to eat—breakfast is free and built into the school day for all students. Local news reports highlight the benefits of universal free breakfast service, including improved behavior and attention in the classroom.

We urge schools to follow these best practices and read FRAC’s study to learn how to improve participation, streamline the enrollment process, and offer free breakfasts to all students. It is imperative that school administrators, counselors, teachers, and anyone else who works with parents and children communicate in a culturally competent manner as they enroll more children in the School Breakfast Program. The application is available in Spanish, too.

NCLR considers the school breakfast and lunch programs crucial for Latino children, many of whom already face challenges in school. We must make use of every tool available to help Latino students succeed.