Child Nutrition Programs
The Food and Nutrition Service’s child nutrition programs - including the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and Summer Meals Programs, among others - help ensure kids and teens have access to nutritious meals all year long.
Because of children’s increased susceptibility to the effects of lead, these programs are a vital part of addressing lead exposure. When responding to a lead exposure crisis, there are many ways to leverage child nutrition programs.
Serving Nutritious Meals Featuring Key Nutrients
The current school nutrition standards require that school breakfasts and lunches meet the Dietary Guidelines and contain foods from a variety of food groups. The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) also recently updated its nutrition standards to more closely align with the Dietary Guidelines. Therefore, children should be encouraged to take advantage of the meals and snacks they receive through these programs to help promote a nutritious diet.
Furthermore, schools may consider introducing practices that boost participation to increase students’ intake of these nutritious foods. For breakfast, consider breakfast in the classroom or grab n’ go options. At lunch, try the Smarter Lunchroom Strategies or get kids involved in taste testing new recipes.
Taking it a step further, school nutrition professionals and child care providers can plan menus that specifically emphasize or increase offerings of food groups that are particularly high in the key nutrients such as whole grains; dark green, red/orange vegetables; and citrus fruits. In addition, schools participating in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, a program for elementary schools with the highest free and reduced price enrollment, can leverage the program to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables high in key nutrients.
All eligible schools and districts in affected areas are encouraged to participate in the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). CEP is a cost-sharing partnership between the Federal government and eligible schools or districts in lower-income areas that allows schools to serve breakfast and lunch at no cost to all students. This eliminates stigma for students receiving free or reduced-price meals, reduces administrative burden for schools and parents, and ensures children get the meals they need.
In regions affected by lead exposure, the widespread access to nutritious meals and key nutrients in low income areas afforded through CEP is critical.
Parents and guardians of children attending schools that do not participate in CEP may be able to lessen the cost for their family by applying for free or reduced priced meals. They can contact their district for more information on how to apply.
Extending Meal Service Beyond the School Day
Areas affected by lead exposure can maximize opportunities for children and teens to consume healthy meals containing the key nutrients by expanding meal service beyond the school day.
- First, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) may cover snacks and/or suppers for children participating in afterschool care programs.
- Second, United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) summer meals programs help fill the need for healthy, nutrient-rich meals when school lets out for summer. Through the summer meals programs, USDA reimburses summer meals sites that provide meals at no cost to children in low income areas. However, we rely on communities to host and sponsor the sites.
Potential sites and/or sponsors should visit our website and contact their State agency for more information. Summer meals programs also rely on champions to help get the word out about the availability of summer meals; communities affected by lead exposure are encouraged to leverage their partnerships to help raise awareness of local summer sites.
Educating Children & Families
Child nutrition programs can help ensure kids and teens have access to nutritious meals; however, just as important is educating and empowering them to make healthy choices all day long. Teachers, care providers, school nutrition professionals, and summer sites can all help provide nutrition education.
The Food and Nutrition Service’s Team Nutrition supports the child nutrition programs in promoting healthy eating and an active lifestyle. They offer a host of free, publicly available materials on their website. School nutrition professionals, day care providers, summer site sponsors and others can use these materials to help teach children the importance of good nutrition, which may help address issues associated with lead exposure.