Dietitian Blog, Research/Industry Updates | Dec 7 2021

What’s new (or not) with school lunches?

Children sitting at table and eating healthy food during break at school

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted school lunches? What does this mean for students? Now that the dust is settling with the pandemic for many areas across the United States, the lasting impact of the pandemic on children’s learning lingers in almost all aspects of education, including how students receive meals.

Before the school year began, the USDA allowed for continuation of free school lunches for all students for the 2021-2022 school year in addition to suspending a lot of its normal practices for schools so that all schools could provide safe, healthy, nutritious meals in a way that best fit their needs. What one school is doing might be different than what another school is doing in another part of the country, or even in a neighboring county.

What changed

The primary change that has occurred and continues to linger right now is how meals are served and the variety of food options students can choose from. Many cafeterias are still closed to prevent mass gatherings of students. Some students are eating in their classroom, others are on more of a rotation for having some meals in the cafeteria, and still other schools have opened alternative spaces like a gymnasium for additional socially distanced dining options.

What hasn’t changed

Despite the change in dining schedule and location, the nutritional quality of school meals has stayed constant. Because many students are not eating in the cafeteria, they may not have all the food options they once did for both their breakfast and lunch meals.

However, the nutritional standards of the meals have not changed. School-provided meals and food choices are of the highest nutritional quality and meet the recommended nutrient standards for each student served by the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs.

At a time when many have wondered where their next meal will come from, the National School Breakfast and Lunch Programs have been steady and consistent resources for students to have nutritious breakfasts and lunches across the nation. In fact, millions of school aged children eat breakfast, lunch, or both at school every day.

Although parents and students can expect unusual dining locations and times through the rest of the school year (and perhaps into next year as well), they can also expect and depend upon the continued high nutritional quality of each meal served to each student across the country.

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About Courtney Lee

Courtney Lee, MS, RDN, CLT, CFCS has a virtual private practice specializing in personalized nutrition and anti-inflammatory diets. She loves helping people use nutrition to change their lives and enjoys empowering other RDNs to do the same!

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