To receive free school meals this year, most parents must apply. Here’s how to do it and why it matters.

All across America, kids are headed back to school. Unfortunately, nearly 12 million of those children will re-enter the classroom struggling with hunger, making it harder to start the school year ready to learn.

Student enjoys a healthy school meal.

School meal programs play a crucial role in ensuring kids get three meals a day and have the nutrition they need to thrive in and out of the classroom.

But this school year, there’s a big difference: Because Congress didn’t extend the federal waiver authority that allowed all kids to eat for free the last two school years, this fall most schools are going back to pre-pandemic operations. This means that families must submit an application form to their school to determine if their kids are eligible for free or reduced price meals. 

If you’re finding it harder to cover all of your expenses, you’re not alone. With inflation at a 40-year high, many families are finding it harder to buy food and pay the bills. Food banks across the country are once again seeing long lines at their doors. 

School meals are a healthy, convenient option for busy families and they can also go a long way in helping make ends meet.

Beyond ensuring kids get school meals, school meals applications may qualify your family for additional benefits, like discounted exam fees and college applications, extracurriculars, scholarship opportunities, and even home wifi.  They can also help your child’s school secure additional classroom resources that will support all students’ education.

School nutrition teams are excited to welcome kids back to the cafeteria, but they too are contending with the increased cost of food, which has made it more expensive to feed kids. School nutrition departments are reimbursed for each meal that they serve, so when more kids participate in the school meals, it helps strengthen the programs for all students.

Girl at school writing with a pencil

So as you’re checking things off your back to school to-do list, be sure you go to your school district’s website to fill out the school meal application or get a paper form from your school.

After all, when it comes to school supplies, nutritious school meals are as important to students’ learning as notebooks and pencils.