San Francisco Unified School District is rolling out a new plan this coming school year that will allow all students access to healthier, more balanced meals regardless of their family income level.
Under the new plan, all students will have access to the National School Lunch Program, which subsidizes schools to help them provide free and reduced meals for students. The National Lunch Program must meet certain nutrition standards provided by the federal government.
Until now, SFUSD schools offered competitive lunch programs consisting of cash-based a la carte foods, as an alternative to the National School Lunch Program, said Paula Jones, director of food systems with the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
Jones, who gave an update on the program to the Health Commission, said the department is working with the district to eliminate the competitive food programs in all SFUSD schools.
That’s partly because school officials realized that many low-income kids were purchasing snacks from the competitive food menus rather than accessing healthier meals offered through the National Lunch Program, said Zetta Reicker, assistant director for student nutrition services at SFUSD.
Last school year, the district did a pilot program in three schools, where it eliminated the competitive, cash-based lunch program. As a result, more kids participated in the National Lunch Program, Reicker said.
Depending on their income level, some students can qualify for free lunches through the national program, but they opt not to in part because they don’t want the stigma, Reicker said.
“We hope to remove the potential of any stigma around the two lines,” Reicker said. “We feel it is a social justice issue.”
It’s not just about social justice; it’s about providing healthy lunches to all students while also generating more revenue for the schools, Reicker said. The district is reimbursed a portion of the money from the federal government and the state for every student who does not qualify for free lunches.
“Particularly low-income students, it’s often their only meal of the day and they do not get dinner at home,” Reicker said. “So the more we can improve nutrition, the better.”
The National Lunch Program:
- Serves more than 101,000 schools
- Provides nutritional lunches to more than 30.5 million students
- Complies with the National School Lunch Act approved in 1946