Offering students a meal before they head home at the end of the day can mean the difference between nourishment and hunger.
Whether you call it supper, dinner, or something completely different, an end-of-day meal is an important step to make sure students aren't going to be hungry, and more and more school districts across the nation are embracing this idea.
From California to Connecticut, more and more districts are working to help free or reduced lunch students enjoy the benefits of three square meals a day, and programs are having an impact.
"There is a need," said Director of Food and Nutrition Services for Elk Grove, CA, Michelle Drake, in a 2012 article. "There are hungry families and hungry children. Just because they get breakfast and lunch doesn't mean they get dinner [at home]. This program helps the child get a nutritious meal rather than Top Ramen or something."
Afterschool supper programs came into existence mainly after the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which led to a myriad of supper programs just a few short years later. In October of 2016, nearly 1.1 million children received an afterschool supper, and average daily participation grew from about 200,000 just five years earlier.
According to the "2018 Afterschool Nutrition Report" from the Food Research & Action Center, many schools and districts are missing out on opportunities, though. Thousands of afterschool programs located in low-income communities provide food during after school hours, yet many that are eligible to serve supper are only serving snack.
What can be done to involve more districts?
For starters, districts in areas with more than 50 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced-price school meals should absolutely consider serving school suppers, as well. Providing meals and snacks through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) are available in these areas.
Citing the report, state agencies and advocates should conduct outreach to eligible schools, identify barriers to participation, and assist schools in overcoming them. The free and reduced lunch ratio is certainly one of the obstacles, but even schools not meeting the 50 percent requirement can still find funding.
There are other barriers to serving school suppers, and some of them include issues with foodservice equipment and supplies.
Lakeside is happy to offer a free school nutrition assessment to districts looking to provide school supper programs for students. We have some ideas that have worked in the past and may be able to help your district in the future.