Schools can keep serving free meals through 2021-22
School districts will be able to provide free meals for students through the end of the 2021-22 school year due to nutrition waivers extended by the Biden-Harris Administration this week.
The program crucially gives schools several meal service flexibilities that enable social distancing, the USDA said as education advocates applauded the decision.
“As schools and students face uncertainty in the wake of the pandemic, one area that continues to shine brightly is the critical work school systems are doing—in large part due to flexibilities granted through the U.S. Department of Agriculture—to help keep students fed even while schools were closed,” said Daniel A. Domenech, executive director of AASA, The School Superintendents Association.
School food-service operations are still recovering from the pandemic, and the USDA’s decision gives superintendents the tools to customize meal service to fit local needs, Domenech says.
“The extension of these flexibilities through the 2021-22 school year will ensure food security as we continue to return to normalcy,” he said.
The move will also help schools cut down on meal waste, Anna Maria Chávez, executive director & CEO of the National School Boards Association, added.
“The extension of flexibilities for sodium, grain, and milk targets will help reduce plate waste that many school districts have reported,” Chavez said. “These actions help provide certainty for many children whose families have been impacted by COVID-19 and they increase flexibility and relief for school districts to successfully administer school meal programs.”
The USDA’s decision allows schools to serve meals under the National School Lunch Program Seamless Summer Option, which is open to all children and maintains the nutrition standards of the standard school meal programs.
Schools that choose the Summer Option will receive higher-than-normal meal reimbursements for every meal served.
Schools offer the single healthiest source of food for children while the nutritional quality of school meals has improved significantly, a recent study from Tufts University found.
“It’s critical that our efforts to reopen schools quickly and safely include programs that provide access to free, healthy meals for our most vulnerable students, particularly those whose communities have been hardest hit by the pandemic,” Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a statement. “This program will ensure more students, regardless of their educational setting, can access free, healthy meals as more schools reopen their doors for in-person learning.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Education released Volume 2 of its COVID-19 Handbook, “Roadmap to Reopening Safely and Meeting All Students’ Needs.”