In-School Learning Needs To Be Chewed Over. Who Knew?

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COVID has produced unexpected poverty in a number of countries. It has lead to hunger, as well as to programs to mitigate it in families with school-age children.

Free school meals are an important support for financially stressed parents. Understanding and implementing school future meals requires both a continuing will to do so, as well managing a unexpected issues that have been revealing themselves over time.

For children in families unable to provide nutritious lunches, school-based nutrition has proved to be valuable. It addresses the basic problem of hunger, and food quality has improved. School meals can provide nutrition over and above what parental finances can cover. An unexpected result has been a decline in child obesity.  Read more in The Conversation: Free school meals for all may reduce childhood obesity, while easing financial and logistical burdens for families and schools

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink

Here’s an unexpected problem of offering school meals: children may shun school meals to avoid the stigma of poverty. A surprising number of children refuse school meals and go hungry. Read more from the HARVARD T.H. CHAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: As federal support for free school meals drops, kids’ stigma may increase

It’s important to note that the stigma of poverty stigma is not a problem when ALL children receive free meals. But can a country, or region, or community find its way towards funding the expense of feeding ALL students?

Regional disparities

This year, Canada’s federal government announced a one billion dollar 5-year plan to continue the benefits of free school meals. The federal government doesn’t dabble in school nutrition. Social welfare, including school meal programs, is a provincial responsibility. And where there are no public progams (as is often the case), the community steps up.

A multiplicity of programs have grown like topsy largely without federal or provincial guidance. Issues have been resolved in a variety of different ways. For example, it happens that one student receives a free lunch, while another is expected to pay some or all of its value. Since existing programs have developed independently, we can expect a continuing patchwork of school meal programs. Read more at the CBC: What we know — and don’t — about the national school food program

Recently, new evidence has arrived for governments to ponder. A UK study indicates the benefits of school meal program are not limited to family finances, or to lowering obesity. A new study suggests that school meals boost school performance, specifically literacy. Read more in The Guardian: Free school meals ‘cut obesity and help reading skills’ in England, study finds

What does all this have to do with housing?
School nutrition programs can help with housing in the short and long term.
  • In the short term, school nutrition programs may relieve the ongoing stress of having to choose between ‘paying the rent or feeding the kids1‘. This should mean more housing stability for students and their families.
  • In the long term, students who complete their education access better quality housing and more stable housing as adults. The results from the study reported in the Guardian above indicate that school nutrition programs improve school performance, which encourages kids to keep on with their schooling.

Footnotes

  1. For more on the origin of this expression, try: Food And Housing Costs Stress Household Budgets – Something Has To Give