By Jeanie Donovan
For many of the five million school children in Texas, returning to the classroom this week means more than just a new teacher and a new grade. It also means returning to regular and balanced daily meals. Although the federal Summer Food Service Program is intended to keep children from going hungry during summer, only about 12 percent of eligible children in Texas are fed by the program. Therefore many of the students who rely on free and reduced-price breakfast, lunch, and snacks during the school year are at high risk of food insecurity during the summer months.
This school year, Texas students participating in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program will receive healthier meals than ever before. Improved federal nutrition standards for both lunch and breakfast meals are now in effect throughout the country. Students will be offered more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-sodium options in both programs. Next year, federal nutrition standards on snacks in schools will also take effect, ensuring that students have access to healthy foods throughout the school day and across the school campus.
In addition to improving the nutritional content of school meals, Texas has recently focused on increasing access to school meals. A large percentage of eligible low-income children receive a free or reduced-price lunch every day, but many do not receive a free or reduced-price breakfast due to a variety of barriers to program participation. To address this problem, Texas state lawmakers passed SB 376 during the 2013 Texas Legislature. The bill requires that all Texas schools with more the 80 percent of the student population qualifying for free or reduced price meals must offer breakfast at no charge to all students. Although the law doesn’t go into effect until the 2014-2015 school year, schools that will be affected by the law should begin to think about how they will alter their breakfast program model in order to comply with the new requirement.
The CPPP nutrition team will provide resources and support to school administrators over the next year to ensure successful implementation of the law and improved access to school breakfast for Texas children.