California school food service professionals report that federal funding of universal school meals (USM) for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic increased access to healthy foods by K-12 students. Professionals cited increased student meal participation, fewer unpaid meal charges, and reduced student stigma as a result of providing meals free of charge to all students. A number of challenges were also experienced by many school districts, namely supply chain disruptions and staffing shortages related to the pandemic. Other challenges were inadequate food service equipment, and issues with food and packaging waste. Fortunately, the state has recently expanded resources to overcome such challenges. The study, funded by California General Fund SB 170, was conducted by Monica Zuercher, Christina Hecht, Ken Hecht, Lorrene Ritchie, and Wendi Gosliner of the Nutrition Policy Institute, and Juliana Cohen of the Center for Health Inclusion, Research, and Practice & Department of Public Health and Nutrition and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Department of Nutrition. The online survey was completed by 581 California food service professionals in early 2022. The complete publication is available online in the Nutrients journal.
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