School Meal Participation Dramatically Increased in 2021–2022 School Year in Maryland As Kids Returned to School and to Free School Meals, Report Finds
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Maryland Hunger Solutions Urges Congress to Make Healthy School Meals for All Permanent
BALTIMORE —March 13, 2023 — With most Maryland schools back to in-person learning and offering breakfast and lunch at no cost to all of their students, participation in school meals grew dramatically during the 2021–2022 school year, greatly surpassing participation prior to pandemic, according to a report released by the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) during National School Breakfast Week (March 6–10, 2023).
FRAC’s The Reach of Breakfast and Lunch During the 2021–2022 School Year reveals 265,028 children in Maryland received breakfast, and 477, 460 children received lunch on an average day during the 2021–2022 school year — an increase of 73% of children for breakfast, and 211% for lunch compared to the previous year.
Nationwide, FRAC’s report reveals that just over 15.5 million children received a breakfast, and 29.9 million children received a lunch on an average day during the 2021–2022 school year — an increase of 1.6 million children (11.2 percent) for breakfast, and 10.1 million (51.1 percent) for lunch compared to the previous year, and slightly above participation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This sharp increase in participation demonstrates what is possible when meals are provided to all students at no charge and children are back in school,” said Michael J. Wilson, Director, Maryland Hunger Solutions. “Our state legislature must build on this lesson learned and make healthy school meals for all a permanent reality for all children across the state.”
Momentum for healthy school meals for all students is building in Maryland, with legislation introduced to reduce hunger and bolster the health and learning of children across the state. We have a critical opportunity to make free school meals for all a permanent reality for all Maryland students.
At the onset of the pandemic, schools shuttered and participation in school meals dropped. Congress gave the U.S. Department of Agriculture the authority to issue nationwide child nutrition waivers through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to provide the flexibilities needed during the pandemic to help reduce child hunger by maintaining school meal participation, most importantly the ability to offer free meals to all students. Unfortunately, these waivers are not available this school year, and Maryland is already reporting a drop in the number of meals being served during the 2022–2023 school year.
“If we wish to maintain these high levels of participation and ensure that children in Maryland have the nutrition they need to achieve in school, we need Congress to make additional investments in School Nutrition Programs,” said Wilson.
The education and health benefits of participating in school meals are numerous, and more children participate when breakfasts and lunches are available to them at no cost.
Healthy School Meals for All also reduces stigma, ends unpaid school meal debt, and eases financial burdens on schools.
Join Maryland Hunger Solutions in raising your hand for Healthy School Meals for All.
About Maryland Hunger Solutions
Maryland Hunger Solutions works to end hunger and improve the nutrition, health, and well-being of Maryland residents. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.
About Food Research & Action Center
The Food Research & Action Center improves the nutrition, health, and well-being of people struggling against poverty-related hunger in the United States through advocacy, partnerships, and by advancing bold and equitable policy solutions. To learn more, visit FRAC.org and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.