A look at the benefits of universal school meals

MIDDLEBURY — Universal school meals, a program in which public schools would stop charging families for their kids’ breakfasts and lunches during the academic year, have already proven their worth in Vermont districts that have implemented the program, according to Anore Horton, executive director of Hunger Free Vermont.
The University of Vermont recently released the results of a two-year study into the benefits of the program.
It revealed, among other things:
•83 percent of staff at participating schools agreed that universal school meals make students better prepared to learn.
•98 percent of staff at these school agreed that free school meals are reducing financial stress on students and families.
•81 percent of officials at participating schools agreed that free meals make the differences in students’ families’ income less visible, and as a result improves the social climate in schools.
The UVM researchers also found that universal school meal programs have increased opportunities to incorporate locally grown food into breakfasts and lunches, and that the availability of free nourishment has contributed to healthier and less-stressed students.
A predictable annual food budget would help schools better plan their purchases and save money in the process, according to Kathy Alexander, nutrition director for the Mount Abraham and Addison Northwest school districts.
“I believe if we were able to do a really good job providing universal meals at our schools, we would see a lot of cost savings that we can’t calculate at this point in time,” she said. “We also wouldn’t have to sell meals the way we do now. There’s a lot of shifting that would happen that would make our work more a part of the school culture, more efficient, and therefore cheaper.”

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