Better Nutrition in King County Schools? Let’s Make it Happen

By United Way of King County, on April 1, 2016 | In Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Guest blogger Emily Johnson recently completed her service with United Way of King County as an Emerson National Hunger Fellow.

Do you remember school lunch? Square pizza, chicken nuggets, and chocolate milk? If you have a kid in school today or have checked out a school breakfast or lunch recently, you might have noticed some changes. Thanks to the increase in nutrition standards by Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) that Congress passed in 2010, more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are being served up every meal for kids!

This is so important because we know that many students receive nearly half of their calories each day at school and for the 100,000 kids in King County who rely on free and reduced school meals, school meals may be the only healthy meals they receive each day. But Congress didn’t just increase nutritional standards- it also did something great to further increase access to school meals for these kiddos too!

In the same HHFKA legislation, Congress created the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) which allows eligible high-needs schools to feed all students for free, regardless of their enrollment in the Free or Reduced Meal program. Instead of using Free and Reduced Meal percentages, CEP uses the number of students directly certified by their families involvement in programs like Basic Food and TANF, or if they are foster youth, migrant youth, or experiencing homelessness. This is a great way to feed hungry kids.

Want to feed hungry kids and leverage millions of dollars of federal revenue currently left on the table? Encourage eligible schools to adopt CEP! If you are interested in learning more about how to advocate for CEP in your community’s school and which King County schools are eligible, check out the report that I wrote on how CEP can help fuel the future of healthy kids in King County!

CEP reduces administrative burdens of collecting and processing Free and Reduced Meal applications, streamlines the meal service which allows more kids to get through the meal line quicker, removes stigma around who is receiving free meals because everyone can eat for free, and increases the federal revenue of school meals by increasing the number of kids eating meals at school.

It is a win-win-win for students, families, and nutrition staff, and in 2014, it became an option for King County schools to adopt it! And we slowly but surely have. Since 2014, 26 schools in King County have adopted CEP, meaning that more than 12,600 students have access to free school meals each day this school year!

The amazing thing is that the impact of CEP can be even greater here in King County! In fact, only 1 in 4 eligible schools are participating in CEP right now, meaning that we could effectively have four times the amount of students receiving free school meals — more than 50,000! There are a few challenges to getting schools to adopt CEP, like collecting alternative income data for state and local funding, but best practices all over the country have been established to solve problems just like those.

CEP could be a game changer for food insecurity in our King County community. More students could be eating healthy, delicious school meals, and low-income families could stretch their food budget a little farther because of it!


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