5 Things You Need to Know About School Nutrition Programs (SNPs)
School lunch isn’t the same as when you were in school. I am in my 40’s and have really fond memories of school lunch. I especially loved soup and grilled cheese day, and also little smokies, mac and cheese, and steamed cabbage day. They even served deep fat fried chicken all the way until I was in high school. Today’s lunches have to meet strict federal nutrition guidelines or schools won’t be reimbursed (we’ll get to this in a min). The USDA regulations require school cafeterias to offer more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains AND limit sodium, calories, and unhealthy fat in every school meal. Get details on school lunch and breakfast standards here. So basically, fried chicken is out and baked chicken is in.
SNPs are not funded by the State. They do receive up to a maximum of $3.51 in reimbursements from the federal government for free- and reduced-price meals, but are expected to generate enough funds to break even on their budget. This funding model isn’t sustainable. SNP’s need state funding to continue to provide school meals to students. Have you ever tried to only purchase healthy food at the grocery store? It’s expensive, right!? You go in with good intentions of getting fresh fruits, veggies, and lean meats, and you walk out with your wallet significantly lighter. Then you’ve got to make those healthy items taste good, cook them, clean up after cooking. That’s a lot of extra time and money. I definitely couldn’t make that happen for less than $4. does
Kids who eat school lunch get more fruits, veggies, and dairy than kids who bring their lunch from home. I’m going to be honest. I have packed a lunch or two in my day. I don’t have any strict guidelines, so I throw in a PB&J (usually on white bread), a bag of chips, sometimes fruit but usually not, a Kind bar, and maybe a juice box. If it’s a crazy morning, kids may get a leftover hotdog and some Cheetos. The point is, I know that the cafeteria serves up more nutritious meals than I would send. This is why I won’t talk junk about school lunch. I know I can’t do better.
Kids who eat school lunch are better prepared to learn. I literally can’t even think with an empty stomach. Kids are the same way. SNPs provide the nourishment kids need to concentrate, read, add, subtract, write notes to their friends, play at recess, prep for those awful standardized tests, and all the other things kids do during the day. As a bonus, typically the cafeteria staff are really kind to the students and give them an extra emotional boost.
School meals are sometimes the only meals kids eat. This one hurts. 1 in 4 kids in North Carolina doesn’t have enough to eat. The breakfast and lunch they get at school may be the only food they eat all day. School Nutrition Programs operate during summer break to ensure that even when school is not in session, kids can eat. You can find out more here.