The Big Apple is the largest city to implement a free school lunch program to date.
The more than 1 million kids who attend New York City public schools will now be able to eat lunch for free beginning with the new school year starting today. New York City Department of Education Chancellor Carmen Fariña made the announcement yesterday, according to a report from the New York Times.
“This is about equity,” Fariña said. “All communities matter.”
The move comes in the wake of increasing backlash against “lunch-shaming” techniques used in school districts across the country, against students whose families cannot afford to pay their lunch bills. New Mexico banned the practice, while one Seattle parent named Jeff Lew stepped in to pay off the lunch debt of an entire school district—a cause to which John Legend donated $5,000.
In New York City, 75 percent of students already qualify for free or reduced lunch programs. The Times reports that the new program will reach 200,000 more students, and save their families as much as $300 every year, without costing the city a significant amount of money. Breakfast, on the other hand, is already a free program throughout the school system.
The New York City Council has been a vocal supporter of enacting the free lunch program; many members cited stories of students who would rather skip lunch than admit to their fellow students that they couldn’t afford to buy it, including Councilman Ben Kallos, who recounted his past struggles as a student at Bronx High School of Science.
“I had to choose between friends and food,” he said. “I hope no child makes the same poor choices I did.”
Meanwhile, on a national level, the Trump administration has been attempting to roll back some of the healthy school lunch initiatives put in place by the previous administration, allowing white bread and chocolate milk back into cafeterias.
Getting kids access to lunch—and a nutritious one at that—is half of the battle. The other is getting them to actually eat that lunch. If you'd like some tips on making healthy meals children will want to eat, check out Chef Tom Colicchio's tips for building better school lunches.