Meal flexibilities support families, school nutrition programs
At a time when families face tough challenges pertaining to home, school and work life, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently extended waivers and flexibilities to allow free meals to be available to all children throughout the entire 2020-21 school year. This unprecedented step ensures healthy meals are available to all students, regardless of circumstances.
The USDA recognizes the need to ensure nutritious meals reach all children, especially as schools and families adjust to ever-evolving situations while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. The waiver flexibilities allow schools to continue to utilize the USDA Summer Food Service Program during the school year, typically only available when school is not in session during the summer months. Now, meals are available all year, both when students are at school was well as through curbside pick-up when learning is online.
Children who are well-nourished have increased opportunity for overall health and success in their daily lives. Good nutrition impacts a child’s ability to concentrate, learn and grow during school, which also impacts future endeavors throughout their lifetime.
Nutritious meals mean one less thing for parents and students to think and worry about and, instead, helps redistribute family energies and resources toward managing both in-school and remote learning scenarios. The program waivers help extend family food budgets and save time by eliminating food acquisition and preparation routines and responsibilities for families.
The program waivers also help address critical challenges faced by school nutrition programs. Time-consuming administrative and operational burdens are greatly reduced, which means school nutrition staff can focus on safely meeting nutritional needs of children in their communities. Meal distribution is streamlined, efficient and faster, which reinforces safety for staff and families while participating in alternative methods of meal service delivery.
Currently, 414 school districts and non-public schools are participating in the program during the 2020-21 school year. In the midst of a pandemic, with the help of the waivers and enough food on their plates, Iowa’s school children are nourished for success whether participating in virtual or in-person classroom environments.