The child nutrition programs, among our nation’s most important and cost-effective public interventions, must be bolstered. Participation of low and moderate-income students in free and reduced-price school lunch and breakfast needs to be increased through greater outreach, less red tape, and reduced stigma. Children should be given adequate time to eat their meals, so that they are not rushed by long lines and short lunch periods. New nutrition standards need to be fully implemented, and done so in ways that engage students in healthier nutrition.
Policy Approaches to Reducing Food Insecurity
Similar strategies need to be applied to the other child nutrition programs, including summer and afterschool food programs (only 16 low-income children receive summer lunch for every 100 low-income children who receive school lunch during the school year); childcare food programs (i.e. federally reimbursed meals in the childcare setting); and WIC (in 2012, the most recent year with USDA-published data, only 53% of eligible children ages 1 to 4 received benefits). In these and other programs, again, eligibility needs to be expanded to fully meet the need, red tape reduced, and the quality, timing and frequency of meals made adequate to bolster health and nutrition.
In all of these instances, the role of all stakeholders is crucial. Federal rules and standards must be strengthened, but states and localities must also build on the programs’ strengths and support improvements in on-the-ground access. There is currently too much variation in program participation and quality of benefits. Schools vary widely in the reach and quality of their meals, and in some states, only half of eligible low-income working families get into SNAP, with varying coverage of the WIC-eligible population (from 45 to 82%). States and localities should reduce stigma and other barriers to participation.
Photo credit: flickr@U.S. Department of Agriculture