October 6, 2022

Katie Herndon Dawkins, North Carolina Alliance for Health Communications Manager

For what it’s worth (FWIW), we believe that school meals are one of the most essential parts of the school day and that every child in every public school in the state should be able to eat school meals at no cost. But (disclaimer), the school meals program is extremely complicated. In our FWIW blog series, we will attempt to break down the intricacies and confusion around school meals and hopefully shed light on the “worth” of school meals.  We’ve looked at how school meals are funded, how school meals are reimbursed, the household meal application, and the Community Eligibility Provision. In this post, we’re digging into the National School Lunch Program and celebrating National School Lunch Week. 

One intricacy of school meals is that there isn’t just one school meal program. There are quite a few different programs that School Nutrition Programs can participate in and we promise that we will get to them all (eventually). But let’s focus on the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) for now. The NSLP is a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost, or free lunches to children in public and nonprofit private schools and residential care institutions. 

The history of school lunches is almost as intricate as the school meal system. School lunches have evolved from volunteer efforts led by teachers and mothers’ clubs in the early 1900s to small-scale federally-funded programs during the Great Depression. In 1946, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) was established under the National School Lunch Act and signed by President Harry Truman after an investigation found that the poor health of men rejected for the World War II draft was associated with poor nutrition in their childhood. Fast forward to the 1990s, when big changes to standardize the nutritional quality of school meals led  USDA to launch the Healthy School Meals Initiative to improve nutritional education for school-age children. 

One thing that has stayed the same is that children learn best when they are fed and school lunch is an important part of student success. National School Lunch Week (NSLW) was created in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy to promote the importance of school lunches on students’ lives and the positive impacts school lunches have inside and outside of the classroom. This year, National School Lunch Week is celebrated the week of October 10-14. During this weeklong celebration, School Nutrition Programs will celebrate with special menus, events, and activities with the goal of increasing student participation and spreading the message to families and the public that schools serve healthy and delicious lunches. We hope you will help spread the word that school lunch matters and every child at every public school should have access to school meals at no cost, regardless of their family’s income.

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