“How do we expect children to learn at school if they are hungry?” says Mónica Zuercher, of the Nutrition Policy Institute. The Los Angeles Times featured Zuercher, a nutritional epidemiologist, in a story about the permanent implementation of the Universal School Meals Program in California starting in the 2022-2023 school year. Zuercher identified the school cafeteria as a place to increase nutritional security. “Nutritional standards are in place at the national level, establishing the nutritional qualities that school meals need to have. So, it is important to highlight that not only two free meals are being offered in schools, but it's also two healthy meals,” she says. The Universal School Meal Program, initially a federal COVID-19 emergency measure, is now being permanently implemented in California and several other states. Zuercher and other researchers at the Nutrition Policy Institute will continue to evaluate the universal school meals program to inform and improve implementation. “It is a very exciting study because it examines multiple stages of universal school meals, from it's beginnings as a measure generated by COVID-19, to the challenge that it presents schools to have a large increase in the number of students participating in the program,” explained Zuercher. Preliminary findings from this research include reports from food service directors who say providing meals to all students free of charge has led to an increase in student participation, reductions in school meal debt and stigma related to meal participation. The original Los Angeles Times article “Big logistical challenge involves free food in schools. How to solve it?” was published on September 15, 2022 in Spanish. Follow updates related to this project on NPI's School Meals for All webpage.
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