For most Kentuckians, March brings up thoughts of basketball and brackets.  For our school nutrition professionals and students, however, March is the home of National Nutrition Month

The USDA school nutrition programs, like the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs, are a slam dunk for Kentucky kids, ensuring they have access to at least two meals a day during the school year. With over 1 in 6 Kentucky kids not having enough to eat and research finding that school meals are the healthiest meals students consume, these programs are vital for the health and nutrition of Kentucky kids. 

Despite how vital these programs are, we know that there are barriers to Kentucky kids accessing services. Thankfully, policymakers in Washington have the opportunity to make some major wins this month for the food security and nutrition of Kentucky kids.

Last month, the United States Department of Agriculture proposed new nutrition guidelines for school meals. These guidelines would make school meals healthier for kids, establishing guidelines to limit added sugars, reduce the amount of sodium, and offer more whole-grains in school meals. With up to 50% of the calories consumed by kids a day being at school, USDA has a huge opportunity to increase the nutritional quality of kids’ diets. 

These proposed guidelines are now in a comment period, and advocates can submit comments in support until April 10, 2023. Visit here to submit comments and read the proposed guidelines.

These updated guidelines will go a long way to ensure the nutrition security of Kentucky kids, and we encourage USDA to implement them.

However, we know there are barriers to receiving and implementing these guidelines that Congress urgently needs to address: 

  1. Just like families are struggling with record high levels of inflation and supply chain shortages, so are schools. It is becoming increasingly difficult for schools to find and afford the healthy foods kids actually want to eat. Congress should act quickly to increase the reimbursement rate for school meals so schools can afford to keep kids fed. 
  2. Congress can give both kids and schools a major win by expanding access to free school meals through the Community Eligibility Provision. With food prices rising 10% this past year, expanding access to free school meals ensures that all Kentucky kids have at least two meals a day and gives families a much-needed break from inflation. Expanding the Community Eligibility Provision is also a win for school districts, allowing them to focus on feeding kids instead of tracking down paperwork and intricate reporting requirements. 

To start this conversation, we hosted a roundtable with Congressman Morgan McGarvey, community organizations, youth, and parent leaders across Louisville. Participants stressed disparities in food access among communities of color and disability status and the important role schools play in keeping kids fed. The group also highlighted the need to address food deserts in Louisville’s West End, increase the amount of nutritious, locally grown foods in schools, and increase federal support for emergency food supports like food banks and schools. 

With UK and UL out of this years’ March Madness bracket, Kentucky kids and families are relying on policymakers in Washington to deliver some major wins. USDA strengthening school nutrition standards and Congress increasing reimbursement rates and expanding access to free school meals would be the slam dunk that kids need. 

Photos from roundtable with Congressman McGarvey: