Declining participation in the National School Lunch Program was not caused by more stringent nutrition standards,by the Food Research and Action Center says.
Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show that school lunch participation increased from 28.9 million students on an average day in the 2003-04 school year to 31.8 million in 2010-11, before dropping to 30.3 million in 2013-14.
Critics of standards have argued that the required reductions in fat, salt, and calories, and increases in fresh produce and whole grains have forced school cooks to create meals that students won’t eat.
Instead, the report contends that since the recession deepened during 2007-2008, the number of children who eat free or reduced-priced meals has increased. That shift was due in part to more children who meet the criteria and in part due to more schools adopting community eligibility, which allows them to provide free meals to all students.
The number of children who pay full price for meals had been declining for years before the 2012-13 school year, when the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was implemented, the report says.
“The timing of these trends, and the rise in participation among the largest group of children in the program, strongly suggest that the new nutrition standards are not causing significant participation trends,” the authors write.
A version of this article appeared in the January 21, 2015 edition of Education Week as Recession Linked to Drop In School Lunch Buying