Today in Massachusetts, 1 in 5 households with children are food insecure, with black and Latinx families disproportionately impacted. School meals are a critical source of nutrition for many children, helping them learn and be active in the short term, and thrive academically, physically, and emotionally in the long term. School meals also establish lifelong healthy eating habits that can reduce the cases and severity of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity, along with the cost associated with these diseases.
School meals can account for over half of a child’s daily calories. These are children who might not otherwise have reliable access to healthy food at home. But right now, too many children who could benefit from school meals aren’t eating them. While there are many reasons for this, two of the biggest barriers that stop children from participating in school meals are the cost of purchasing meals and the stigma of being singled out as needing a free or reduced price school meal.
Universal school meals eliminates financial barriers by ensuring any child can receive a meal, regardless of income, removing stigma and shame. No student is required to pay fees before entering their classroom to learn, or seeing the school nurse or a guidance counselor. The same should apply to the fundamental need for food.