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School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children
may have access to the school meal. During the 2005–2006 school year, more than 49.1 million children were enrolled in U.S. public schools (U.S. Department of Education, 2007a).
In turn, about 60 percent of children in schools that offer school meals eat a lunch provided by the NSLP (USDA/FNS, 2007a). In fiscal year (FY) 2007, an average of 30.6 million schoolchildren participated in the NSLP on each school day. About 24 percent of children in schools that offered the SBP participated in the program, on average, equaling 10.1 million children each school day. In FY 2007, the participating schools served about 5.1 billion lunches at a federal cost of approximately $8.7 billion and 1.7 billion breakfasts at a federal cost of $2.2 billion (USDA/ERS, 2008a).
Both the NSLP and the SBP provide a safety net for children in need, given the provisions that make school meals available free or at a reduced cost to eligible participants. If the child lives in a household whose income is at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level (or if the household receives food stamps,1 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or assistance from the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations), the child is eligible for a free school lunch and a free school breakfast. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act (P.L. 100-77 ), as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act (P.L. 107-110 ), states that students who are identified by a school district as homeless or highly mobile automatically qualify for free meals and do not need to complete the full application process (U.S. Department of Education, 2004).
A child is eligible for a reduced-price meal if the household income is between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty level (USDA/ERS, 2008b). Ordinarily, children from households with incomes over 185 percent of the poverty level pay full price. Even full-price meals, however, are subsidized by the government to a small extent through both cash reimbursements and the provision of USDA (commodity) foods (see Chapter 10).
Notably, in addition to providing food through the federal school meal programs, schools generally offer foods through à la carte service in the school cafeteria, school stores and snack bars, and vending machines. Food obtained from these sources and consumed at school is considered to be competitive food—food that competes with the school meal programs. Moreover, some schools have an open campus policy that gives students the opportunity to obtain food from commercial food establishments. The report Nutrition Standards for Foods in Schools (IOM, 2007a) recognizes that many of the competitive foods that are offered are not foods that are encouraged by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. That report provides recommended standards for competitive foods to encourage students to
As of October 1, 2008, the new name for the Food Stamp Program is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (commonly called SNAP).