Thousands of New York City public school students are about to find out that there is such a thing as a free lunch.
At a Sept. 6 press conference, Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña announced that the city’s “Free School Lunch for All” program, currently available to 75% of New York City public school students, will be made available to every student in the system beginning this academic year.
“Free School Lunch for All will provide financial relief to families and ensure all students are receiving nutritious meals so that they can succeed in the classroom and beyond,” Fariña said.
The expansion in the country’s largest public school system means an additional 200,000 students will be able to eat for free.
New York City joins Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and other major municipal school districts that have begun offering universal free lunch in the last five years, thanks to the Department of Agriculture’s Community Eligibility Provision, which collects system-wide data to determine need for subsidized meal options, preventing individual families from having to apply.
Food insecurity is often hidden in plain sight in wealthy New York City, affecting up to 37% of residents in some neighborhoods.
A 2014 report found the average South Bronx resident involuntarily missed more than 35 meals per year.
“For so many students, school is the only place where they have access to a nutritious meal,” New York Assembly member Linda B. Rosenthal said in a press release. “Providing free lunch to the City’s 1.1 million public school students will ensure that their bodies are fed so that their brains can be nourished.”
Better access to nutritious food has been found to increase school performance.
Studies of subsidized school breakfast programs, which have been around in various forms since the 1960s, have found that participating students demonstrate improved behavior and concentration and are less likely to repeat a grade. An August 2017 study found that improving the nutritional content of school lunches led to a small increase in test scores.
“While adults may be able to focus and concentrate better with poorer nutrition, with kids, they cannot necessarily control that, and they might be more distracted and less able to sit and learn if their basic needs such as sleep and nutrition aren’t getting met,” Tanya Altmann, spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics, told CNN in a March interview.
The city is inviting those kids to chow down — without having to ask.
“This helps New York City’s working families who struggled to pay $300 a year for school lunch, and it eliminates the stigma that we know kept some children from eating,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers.
Even on Taco Tuesday.
(Especially on Taco Tuesday.)