April 15, 2021
Assessing the Nutrition Requirements of the School Food Programs
Nearly 30 million children receive meals at school each day through the federal school breakfast and lunch programs. A decade ago Congress reformed the nutritional standards of school meals, partially in response to rising childhood obesity rates. In a new insight, AAF’s Director of Human Welfare Policy Tara O’Neill Hayes and Madeline VanHorn examine these reforms and note that while the new standards are improvements, gaps remain.
The school food program nutrition requirements do not fully satisfy children’s total nutritional needs. While the balance may be made up during dinner, particularly for some components where at least two-thirds of the recommendation is met—such as fruits, grains, and milk or dairy—children are likely not receiving other components—such as meats and vegetables—in a high enough quantity for dinner to fill the gap. This challenge is particularly relevant for low-income children who are most likely to rely on school meals.