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More free, healthy meals in Baltimore schools

Federal program allows schools with high poverty rates to replace traditional, tiered-price meal programs
Students in Baltimore City Public Schools now receive free breakfast and lunch every day under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s Community Eligibility Provision.
Students in Baltimore City Public Schools now receive free breakfast and lunch every day under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s Community Eligibility Provision.

Baltimore City Public Schools now offers free breakfast and lunch to all of its 84,000 students, regardless of family income.

To expand food service, the district took advantage of funding through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act’s Community Eligibility Provision, a federal program that launched in 2011 allowing schools with high poverty rates to replace traditional, tiered-price meal programs. Before engaging CEP, 84 percent of Baltimore’s public school students received free or reduced-price lunch.

For many students, they will eat more healthy than what they have at home, says Gregory Thornton, CEO of Baltimore schools. “This creates an opportunity for us to actually begin to change lifetime eating habits with respect to fresh fruits and vegetables,” he says. “For many of our families, that’s just one less thing they have to contend with because they know when their child arrives at school, they’re going to get a healthy breakfast and a healthy lunch, and that’s the core of a really strong instructional day.”

This past school year, CEP allowed 14,000 schools nationwide to serve free meals to 6.4 million students. And more than half of the schools eligible participated.

Other benefits of CEP include: less paperwork because lower-income families don’t need to submit applications for processing; students not falling through the cracks due to missed application deadlines; and the elimination of social pressures youngsters may feel in a tiered-price system, says Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association.

“Sometimes kids feel singled out if they get a free meal in the cafeteria in a school where not many students participate in the program, and sometimes they don’t want to get their meal at all,” Pratt-Heavner says. —