Study by Stanford and NPI researchers describes barriers and best-practices for school districts offering meals during the COVID-19 pandemic despite school closures

Aug 19, 2021

Meals provided to children at schools–funded by the USDA–help mitigate childhood food insecurity. Despite COVID-19 related school closures beginning March 2020, school districts across California continued to offer meals to children and families. In a recent community-based participatory research study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, researchers at Stanford and the University of California (UC) Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI) describe challenges and best practices in providing and accessing school meals during COVID-19. Researchers interviewed food service directors, school superintendents, and community partners, and conducted parent focus groups in English and Spanish, in six school districts in California's San Joaquin Valley–a region of predominantly low-income, Latino immigrant families. For schools, the leading barriers were developing safe meal distribution systems, boosting low participation, covering COVID-19 related costs and staying informed on policy changes. Families named transportation difficulties, safety concerns and lack of fresh food as major barriers to taking school foods. Researchers also identified pandemic-electronic benefit transfer (P-EBT), bus-stop meal deliveries, community meal pick-up locations, batched meal service and leveraging partner resources as innovative strategies for continuity in offering meals despite school closures. The study was conducted in partnership with two non-profit community organizations–Cultiva La Salud and Dolores Huerta Foundation–that work towards health equity and social justice in the San Joaquin Valley. The paper's authors were Ashley Jowell, Janine Bruce, Gabriela Escobar, Valeria Ordonez and Anisha Patel of the Stanford University School of Medicine and Christina Hecht of NPI. The study was funded by the Stanford Center of Excellence in Diversity in Medical Education and Office of Faculty Development and Diversity, Stanford Medical Scholars Research Program, the American Heart Association Voices for Healthy Kids, and the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund.

By Danielle L. Lee
Author - Director of Communications & Research Engagement
By Christina A Hecht
Contributor - UC ANR Nutrition Policy Institute Academic Coordinator
By Lorrene Ritchie
Editor - Director of the Nutrition Policy Institute and Cooperative Extension Nutrition Specialist