What’s the future of school lunch post-pandemic?

Mary Harris writes for Slate Magazine on the perilous future of school lunch as the nation continues its push out of pandemic-related restrictions and spending.

Nearly universal provisions have allowed most children to eat for free during the school day, but supply chain complexities and costs are now major factors as federal rules supporting the program are set to expire on June 30.

Food costs way more. The supply chains are wracked. Labor costs more. The schools are struggling with staffing generally. Most immediately, in the summer, there are going to be a lot fewer sites across the country serving free meals for any students who need them. Instead of the government giving school meal programs more time to get back to normal, it’s asking them to meet a lot more red tape with fewer resources in a very short amount of time.

Politico Reporter Helena Bottemiller Evich in Slate Magazine

Leadership from the School Nutrition Association digs deeper into the impact of expiring support.

Diane Pratt-Heavner, director of media relations of the School Nutrition Association, says that if the waivers are allowed to expire entirely, it will be financially devastating to schools. “Losing the waivers would be a double hit financially,” says Pratt-Heavner. “Not only would they lose that higher reimbursement rate, but they would see their meal participation decline, because the meals are no longer free for all students. And the fewer meals you serve, the higher per-meal costs.”

Schools are currently in the process of signing contracts for food staples and setting their school meal prices for next school year. Unless the waivers are extended soon, schools will have to offset the loss of the waivers and the record-breaking food costs by increasing their prices. Without the waivers, more students will once again be on the hook for buying meals at school. “We’re really getting to a crisis point,” says Pratt-Heavner. “Not only are you going to have families to suddenly have to pay for their meals, but they’re going to be paying more.”

TIME Magazine