Blog | June 15, 2020

New Survey Shows COVID-19’s Impact on School Meal Programs

These crucial programs must adapt to fit the needs of our nation’s young people

Major General (Ret.) Ronald L. Johnson

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced our schools and many businesses to shut down indefinitely. It has exposed the fragility of some of our most crucial systems, like school meals. Countless children across the nation depend on school and summer meal programs as their only source of balanced, nutritious meals. While schools may be closed, most school meal programs are continuing to operate, and it is vital that we support them to continue serving the children who rely on them.

Despite school closures and other obstacles caused by the public health crisis, an estimated 95 percent of school meal programs have continued serving meals over the last few months. This new information comes from the School Nutrition Association’s new survey, Impact of COVID-19 on School Nutrition Programs - Part 2, which provides feedback from 1,894 school nutrition professionals from across the nation.

School meal programs across the country have innovated food distribution in order to ensure students remain well-fed and healthy while also minimizing contact. Forty-two percent of respondents are delivering food directly to student’s homes, while nearly a third have activated their school bus routes for food distribution Other popular options include drive-through meal pick-up, walk-up family feeding stations, or a combination of multiple means.

While innovation and dedication shown by school meal programs has been remarkable, the additional preparation, staffing, personal protection equipment, and transportation costs have caused financial concerns for 90 percent of respondents. These financial constraints will make it even harder to serve their kids throughout this crisis, as well as when schools eventually reopen. Without additional federal funding, these programs could falter.

Balanced, nutritious school meals are one of the best tools we have available to fight obesity among our nation’s youth. We need to prioritize the health and future success of our young people by supporting school meal programs during the pandemic and beyond. The findings of this report represent an opportunity for Congress to support the innovations taking place in local communities across the country: by providing emergency supplemental funding for school meal programs, increasing funding for training and technical assistance for meal workers, and maximizing the availability of USDA commodities available to schools. Our children’s futures depend on it.


Major General (Ret.) Ronald Johnson, U.S. Army is a member of Mission: Readiness

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