Evaluating the implementation of Universal School Meals during and beyond COVID-19 in Maine

Oct 7, 2022

Like California, Maine is providing Universal School Meals statewide for the 2022-2023 school year. The Nutrition Policy Institute is collaborating with a national research team to understand the opportunities and challenges of providing universal school meals during the federally-funded COVID-19 implementation of free school meals in Maine to inform continuation of universal school meals beyond the federally supported program. During spring of 2022, a total of 43 school food authorities (SFA) in Maine completed an online survey about the challenges and benefits of school food service during the COVID-19 federally funded universal meals program as well as their hopes and concerns about continuing to implement universal school meals. SFAs reported benefits of USM such as increased school meal participation, reductions in perceived stigma of eating school meals, and the new absence of unpaid meal charges. Notable challenges reported during the COVID-19 pandemic were related to resources such as time, personnel, and financial support to meet the increased number of student school meal participation. Rural schools reported greater challenges than urban schools. The study highlights the role of public policy at local, state, and federal levels to support schools as they work to promote nutrition equity in the lunchroom. Results were published online the the journal Nutrients as part of their special issue on School Meals and Children's Dietary Behaviour. The study was conducted by lead author Juliana Cohen and Deborah Olarte of the Center for Health Inclusion, Research and Practice, Christina Hecht, Ken Hecht, Monica Zuercher, Wendi Gosliner, and Lorrene Ritchie from the Nutrition Policy Institute, Michele Polacsek of the University of New England, Center for Excellence in Public Health, Margaret Read of Share Our Strength, No Kid Hungry, Anisha Patel of Stanford University Division of General Pediatrics, Marleke Schwartz of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, and Lindsey Turner of the College of Education, Boise State University. The study was funded by Share Our Strength and Full Plates Full Potential.

By Katherine Lanca
Author - Graduate Student
By Danielle L. Lee
Editor - Director of Communications & Research Engagement
By Wendi Gosliner
Editor - Project scientist
By Lorrene Ritchie
Editor - Director of the Nutrition Policy Institute and Cooperative Extension Nutrition Specialist