Providing no-cost school meals can fight child hunger, make kids healthier, and improve academic performance.
In North Carolina, 1 in 6 children struggle with hunger, which means they aren’t able to get enough food or they aren’t able to get enough healthy food. That’s over 400,000 children in our state. Yet many do not qualify for free or reduced-price lunch because their family’s income is too high.
Children should not have to skip meals or take on debt when their parents can’t pay.
Contact state legislators now – Ask them to let every student eat nutritious meals at school so they can focus on learning.
Boosting Student Success: Removing Barriers to School Meals
Meet our partners with School Meals for All NC
In North Carolina, 1 in 6 children struggle with hunger, which means they aren’t able to get enough food or they aren’t able to get enough healthy food. That’s over 400,000 children in our state.
In the most recent NC Youth Risk Behavior Survey, one in 4 high school students and one in 5 middle school students reported they did not eat breakfast.
School meals are an important source of nutritious meals for students. Yet 29% of children facing hunger do not qualify for free or reduced-price school meals because their family’s income is too high. Providing no-cost school meals can help.
In a typical school year, more than 60% of children are eligible for subsidized meals in our state. There are 28 North Carolina school districts where over 90% of children are enrolled in free or reduced-price school meal programs. It makes sense to provide them all at no cost.
“Lunch shaming” means more kids skip meals.
Unfortunately “lunch shaming” practices are not uncommon in some NC school districts. These can include throwing away a student’s meal when they can’t pay, providing “alternative meals” such as a cheese sandwich, or barring participation in school events like graduation.
Schools are even allowed to call child protective services and debt collectors for school meal accounts that are in the red. To avoid such treatment, many hungry children will choose not to eat meals at all. We can end this problem by providing every student with no-cost school meals.
By November 2022, schools in North Carolina had accrued more than $1.3 million in unpaid meal charges this school year. It’s clear that families are struggling to pay for school meals. The simplest solution to school meal debt is to make school meals available to all students in public schools at no cost to their families.
School meals improve students’ physical and mental health
Researchers have found that students who participate in free school meal programs have lower probability of obesity. Students who participate in free school meal programs also have fewer visits to the school nurse, as well as documented improvements in behavior and mental health indicators (sources).
Hunger makes it harder for kids to learn. Study after study shows that no-cost school meals improve academic outcomes for students and for schools. For example, a study here in North Carolina found a wide range of positive academic outcomes for schools offering meals to all students at no cost to their families.
North Carolina schools that participate in a federal program providing all students with free breakfast and lunch are more likely to have met growth targets and to have a higher performance grade compared to schools with similar income levels that don’t participate. Those schools also have higher academic performance on average compared to schools with similar income levels that don’t participate.