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  • Jennifer Weber

Celebrating Unsung Heroes

Today is School Lunch Hero Day and if there was ever a time to show appreciation for the professionals who help feed America’s students, it is now. School meals have long been an easy target of jokes and criticism. It is past time to let go of school food as a kicking post and acknowledge the incredible role those meals, and school nutrition professionals play, in improving the health of children and youth.

Still a skeptic? Keep this in mind.

School meals are often the healthiest meals children consume in the day, especially with the changes made because of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. A recent study analyzed the diets of over 21,000 children and 40,000 adults between 2003 and 2018. For children, food consumed at schools had the highest quality, followed by food from grocery stores, other sources, worksites, and restaurants. Diet quality for foods from schools improved significantly, especially after 2010. And if note, this occurred equitably across subgroups.

School meals feed millions of students. Prior to the pandemic, over 29 million children received school lunch and almost 15 million received breakfast, with 74 percent of lunches and 85 percent of breakfasts to low-income students for free or for a reduced price. What happened when schools went remote? School nutrition professionals continued to serve meals – quickly implementing grab and go meals and pick up sites, knowing that regardless of the instruction model school meals were critical to student’s health and learning. In my school district alone, 126 staff served over 2,243,551 meals to students this school year, which was almost entirely remote learning until mid-March.

It’s time to move on from the school meal quips and recognize the program and professionals that improve the nutritional intake of all participating students and make an even greater positive impact on students from food-insecure households. That is no joking matter. It is reason for praise and commendation.

Join me today in thanking school nutrition professionals, who deserve more than one day to be recognized as heroes.

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