NJ lags in feeding young kids

New research finds NJ behind on WIC, SNAP participation

New Jersey lags behind nationally when it comes to tapping into federal programs to feed young children living in low-income households, according to new research from the Food Research & Action Center and the Think Babies campaign.

View NJ’s Fact Sheet.

Just 67 percent of eligible New Jersey infants benefit from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), compared to 77 percent nationally. This program provides critical nutrition support to pregnant women, infants and toddlers.

For the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps), New Jersey also lags behind, reaching only 57 percent of young children, compare to 66 percent nationally.

“No child should face hunger, especially when federal dollars are available to feed these children,” said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey. “By maximizing participation in federal nutrition programs, we can greatly reduce childhood hunger in New Jersey, improving child health and ultimately academic success.”

Nearly 14 percent of New Jersey children under 18 live in food-insecure households, compared to 17.4 percent nationally, according to an analysis of 2014-16 Current Population Survey-Food Security Supplement. At 18 percent, an even higher percentage of New Jersey children 0 to 3 years old live in poverty.

New Jersey posted a modest increase in participation in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which provides meals to young children in child care. Total CACFP participation among young children inched up 4 percent from 2013 to 2018. That increase, however, is far below the national jump of 25 percent. CACFP participation in private homes caring for young children actually dropped 20 percent during that time.

“There are federal dollars available to feed our youngest children and we are not taking advantage of those funds,” said Cecilia Zalkind, president & CEO, Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “Boosting participation in these programs among families will help to build a stronger foundation for our youngest children.”

“SNAP serves as the first line of defense against hunger and is critical to keeping and lifting low-income households — including those with children — out of hunger and poverty,” LaTourette added. “WIC helps pregnant women, new mothers and children eat healthier. Children who participate in WIC also are likely to have better academic outcomes than low-income children who do not benefit from the program.”

ZERO TO THREE created Think Babies to make the potential of every baby a national priority.

Think Babies state partner Advocates for Children of New Jersey is collaborating with Hunger Free New Jersey and others to advance policies and investments benefiting infants, toddlers and their families, particularly those that promote good nutrition and strong physical and emotional health.

Funding partners for Think Babies include the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Perigee Fund. Learn more at www.thinkbabies.org. 

NJ gaining on afterschool suppers

children eating in the cafeteria

New Jersey communities achieved one of the highest increases in the nation when it comes to serving afterschool suppers to more students, according to a national report released today.

The Food Research & Action Center’s report, Afterschool Suppers: A Snapshot of Participationfound that the number of New Jersey children receiving afterschool suppers rose 22.5 percent from October 2017 to October 2018, when more than 24,000 children received a snack or meal on an average day. Only 10 states achieved higher increases.

The number of students receiving afterschool snacks also grew, rising 6 percent during that same time. In October 2018, 43,547 children received afterschool snacks through two federal programs – the National School Lunch Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

“This is great progress and helps fight hunger for children who might otherwise go home to an empty dinner table,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey. “Federal child nutrition programs like afterschool meals give students the nourishment they need to be healthy and succeed in school.’’

LaTourette noted, however, that New Jersey still falls short of serving supper to the FRAC recommended 15 percent of students who receive free or reduced-price school lunch. With a 5.4 supper participation rate, New Jersey was below the national 6.2 average.

If New Jersey reached the recommended 15 percent, communities would collect an additional $19.9 million each year in federal funds for afterschool suppers, according to a September report by Hunger Free New Jersey.

Many school districts continue to serve snacks through the National School Lunch Program, primarily because it is easier to administer since they are already participating through lunch service. FRAC’s report found that 55 percent of New Jersey’s afterschool nutrition is served through the National School Lunch Program.

The problem is, this program does not provide reimbursements for suppers and does not allow meal service on weekends or during school breaks.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program, on the other hand, provides generous reimbursements for snacks and suppers served in both schools and community-based afterschool programs. Those meals can be served on the weekends and during school breaks, under this program.

“We encourage more New Jersey school districts to switch to serving suppers, in addition to snacks,’’ LaTourette said. “For many children, a snack alone will not ward off the hunger they face when struggling families are unable to put dinner on the table every night.’’

Under CACFP, any community with at least half of children qualified to receive free or reduced-price school meals can provide snacks and suppers using federal funds.

“We are leaving so much money on the table that could be used to feed hungry children,’’ LaTourette noted. “It just doesn’t make sense. While it takes some effort to implement the program, once it’s up and running, schools routinely report that serving supper helps address student hunger, which is a major barrier to learning.’’

Child Nutrition Reauthorization, currently being considered by Congress, provides an opportunity to invest in afterschool meals by streamlining the program to allow more New Jersey children to receive this critical nutrition, LaTourette said.

Increasing private and public funding for afterschool programs — including more investment of federal, state, and local dollars — would also help meet the demand for quality afterschool programs, which far outstrips supply in low-income communities, the report found.

In addition to providing good nutrition, afterschool programs also bolster academic achievement, provide safe places for children to play and learn after school and support working parents.

“The nutrition and enrichment activities provided through afterschool programs support both children’s health and learning,” LaTourette said. “We need to bolster that support by increasing the number of programs offering afterschool activities and suppers, and make sure they are affordable and accessible for low-income families.”

View the report. For more information about hunger in New Jersey, visit hungerfreenj.org.

The Food Research & Action Center is the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States. To learn more, visit FRAC.org,

Hunger Free New Jersey works to change policy and practice to ensure that every single New Jersey resident has healthy food to eat, every single day.

New summer meal guide

Hunger Free New Jersey’s new guide is designed to help school districts and community organizations serve meals to more students in the summer. Find strategies, tips from school officials and tons of resources.

A new state law requires all schools where at least half of students are low-income to participate in the federal Summer Food Service Program by 2020.

Despite strong progress on the summer meals front, just 26 percent of children who can benefit received summertime nutrition in 2018.

We encourage school districts and other organizations to use this guide to help them implement effective summer meal programs.

The guide includes 10 key strategies, answers to frequently asked questions, links to a ton of resources and answers to other questions about program participation.

View the guide.

Summer meals strategy sessions

Summit to help school districts meet new state mandate to provide summer meals to kids.

Reinvestment Fund is hosting the summit, in partnership with Hunger Free New Jersey and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Event Details
Summer Meals Summit

Dec. 13, 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Lunch provided)
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
50 College Road E.
Princeton, NJ
Register now.

More Info
When school is out hunger sets in for far too many children.

The Summer Food Service Program provides federal dollars to feed children during the school is out and hunger sets in for many students who rely on school meals during the academic year.

A new state law requires all schools with at least 50 percent of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch to serve meals through the Summer Food Service Program, starting in 2020.

This free sessions will highlight key strategies to implement successful summer meals programs, helping districts tap into federal funds to feed children during the summer.
We will bring together school officials, community partners and advocates to answer questions and explore successful strategies. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture will hold SFSP trainings in January for new sponsors. This session will help you decide whether to become a sponsor or site, among other important considerations.

The most effective programs are a community effort. Learn the ins and outs of SFSP and how to team up with others to deliver tasty, healthy meals to more students.

For more information, contact Lisa Pitz, outreach director, at lpitz@cfanj.org or (201) 569-1804, x21

Suppers a growing option for NJ kids

Children receiving afterschool supper

Afterschool suppers are on the menu in a growing number of New Jersey communities, giving more children the afternoon nutrition they need to stay healthy and succeed in school, according to a new report by Hunger Free New Jersey.

From 2016 to 2019, the number of children served dinners rose 34 percent, translating to nearly 24,000 children receiving this meal each day in afterschool programs operated by schools, community organizations and local governments, according to Food for Thought: The State of Afterschool Meals in New Jersey, 2019.

In March 2019, communities served nearly 485,000 suppers to children who might otherwise go home to an empty dinner table. These communities collected $1.8 million for snacks and suppers served in March alone.

Despite this progress, New Jersey still falls short of reaching 15 percent of low-income children who eat free or reduced-price school lunch – a national standard set by the Food Research & Action Center.

If New Jersey achieved that goal, communities could collect an additional $19.9 million in federal dollars to feed children, the report found.

“This is incredible progress and means that many more children are receiving this important afternoon and evening nutrition, helping to combat childhood hunger,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey. “But we have a lot more work to do. We are still reaching just 6 percent of children who could benefit from suppers.’’

Afterschool meals can be provided to children up to age 18 at afterschool programs based in schools, community and faith-based sites. Funding is provided through two federal programs: The Child and Adult Care Food Program and the National School Lunch Program. While schools have for years served snacks through the school lunch program, suppers are a relatively new addition through CACFP.

Unlike the school lunch program, CACFP allows communities to serve both snacks and suppers. Meals can also be served on weekends and during school breaks. This gives communities more opportunities to fill the meal gaps children often face when they lack access to school meals, LaTourette said.

“We’re really encouraging more school districts to switch to CACFP,’’ LaTourette said.  “They can feed dinner to students during the week and during breaks, while collecting higher federal reimbursements.’’

“We know that many New Jersey families struggle to put food on the table,’’ said Cecilia Zalkind, president & CEO, Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “We know that poor nutrition leads to poor outcomes for kids, so it is crucial that communities work together to tap into this and other federal child nutrition programs.’’

Reinvestment Fund, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has established a new fund to help communities participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

The New Jersey Child Nutrition Fund provides capital funding and technical assistance for federal nutrition program sponsors, sites and meal vendors to expand the availability of fresh and nutritious food to children across New Jersey.

“We are accepting applications from communities across New Jersey and look forward to working in partnership to ensure that more children get the healthy, nutritious food they need to thrive,’’ said Donna Leuchten Nuccio, senior director of healthy food access, Reinvestment Fund, which contributed to the Hunger Free New Jersey report.

In addition to providing good nutrition, afterschool programs also bolster academic achievement, provide safe places for children to play and learn after school and support working parents.

“Far too many children come home from school to an empty table and may not get anything to eat until they go to school the next morning,’’ LaTourette said. “There is absolutely no reason for this when federal dollars are waiting to be claimed to feed these children.’’

Read the report and view local data.

How to find summer meals for kids

Schools out and summer meals are in. Organizations across New Jersey are gearing up to serve fresh, healthy summer meals to children and teens in communities across the state.

To find sites, parents can visit the USDA summer meals sitefinder, text “food” to 97779 or call 1-866-3-HUNGRY. It’s best to check with the site before visiting to be sure they serve meals to any child, regardless of whether they are registered with the program

Funded through the USDA, these meals must meet USDA nutritional guidelines, which call for balanced foods that contain low salt and sugar and whole grains. This summer, New Jersey expects to have about 1,300 sites across the state serving meals to children and teens 18 and under.

Not only do these programs provide nutritious meals, many also give kids a chance to engage in fun, healthy activities during the summer months. Schools districts, local recreation departments, food banks and other community organizations act as summer meal sponsors, providing food to sites throughout a community and, often, neighboring communities.

The meals are served at parks, schools, pools, libraries, recreation programs and other places where children congregate in the summer.

Some sites require children to be enrolled in a recreation or academic program. Others are “open” sites where any child can go to receive free, healthy meals. At open sites, parents do not need to provide proof of income, residence or any other identification. They can simply bring their child to a site for a meal in their community.

Unfortunately, too few children and parents know they can receive these meals at sites throughout their communities.

You can help! The New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign has posted a local outreach toolkit, flyers and social media messages.

Please share these messages with your e-networks, post on social media and distribute flyers in your community.

Working together, we can ensure that no New Jersey child goes hungry this summer and that all children return to school in September with the nourishment they need to thrive and succeed.

Summer meals on the rise

More children are receiving summer meals, helping combat childhood hunger, according to a new report by Hunger Free New Jersey.

New Jersey communities served up summer meals to more than 103,000 children on an average day in July 2018 through two federal summer meals programs, according to the report, Food for Thought: The State of Summer Mealsin New Jersey.

That represents a 38 percent increase since July 2015, the report found. As a result, federal meal reimbursements rose to $12.7 million – a 71 percent increase since 2015.

“This is tremendous progress and means that many more children who rely on school meals will have a hunger-free summer,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey, which leads the child nutrition campaign.

She attributes the progress to a concerted effort by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign, and it many partners, to recruit more summer meal sponsors and sites and expand awareness of the program.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture continues to recruit sites to participate in the Summer Food Service Program this summer.

“We encourage schools, municipal government and community organizations to participate in this essential child nutrition program to combat summertime hunger and help kids return to school in September healthy and ready to learn,’’ LaTourette said, adding interested parties should contact the New Jersey Department of Agriculture at (609) 292-4498.

Despite this progress, the national Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) recommends that states reach 40 percent of low-income children who eat lunch at school, compared to New Jersey’s 26 percent participation rate. If New Jersey achieved that goal, communities would collect an estimated $5.2 million more in federal dollars each year to feed hungry children during the summer, according to FRAC’s Hunger Doesn’t Take A Vacation: Summer Meals Status Report, 2018.

In the summer, family budgets are stretched tight when many parents must pay extra for child care and summer camps. At the same time, children do not have access to school meals, meaning that thousands of New Jersey children face hunger in the summer.

To fight summertime hunger, the United States Department of Agriculture provides funding to local governments, school districts and community organizations to serve summer meals to children. These meals are typically served at places where children congregate – parks, pools, libraries, camps and recreation programs, among other sites.

In July 2018, 127 summer meals sponsors provided meals at 1,357 sites throughout New Jersey, according to the report.

In addition to providing free, healthy meals, these programs also offer an opportunity for children 18 years and younger to play together, engage in enrichment activities, hone their academic skills and be better prepared when they return to school in September.

Last year, New Jersey passed a law that requires any school district with at least half of its students eligible for free or reduced-price school meals to participate in the Summer Food Service Program.

Districts were allowed to request a waiver for this summer. Of the 127 districts affected by the mandate, 104 requested waivers. All but four were granted. By 2020, all districts affected by the law must participate as either a site or a sponsor.

Three school districts – Jamesburg, Clifton and Stem Civic Charter School — opted to become new sponsors, while 20 others will team with an existing sponsor to operate a site at one or more schools in their districts this summer, state officials said.

“We expect to see even greater growth in 2020 as this new law takes hold and expands summer meals to children across New Jersey,’’ LaTourette said. “We look forward to continuing to work with local and state leaders to ensure that every child has healthy food to eat, every single day.’’

To learn more, contact the New Jersey New Jersey Department of Agriculture at 609-292-4498 or visit our summer meals page.

NJ slips in school breakfast ranks

New state law promises improvement

New Jersey is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to providing school breakfast to low-income students, many of whom routinely face hunger, according to a national report released today.

The state dropped from 19th to 21st place in the Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) annual School Breakfast Scorecard.

Since 2011, New Jersey schools had made steady progress in reaching more hungry children through the federal School Breakfast Program, but in the 2017-18 school year student participation dipped 2 percent to 59.1 percent of students who eat free or low-cost school lunch, according to the report.

New Jersey schools are failing to claim at least $14 million in federal school breakfast funds – dollars the state’s taxpayers already send to Washington, D.C., the report found.

“This just doesn’t make sense,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey, which leads the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign, a statewide effort to expand participation in federal child nutrition programs.

“We have hungry kids. We have a federal program that provides money to feed these children a healthy breakfast. And still, far too many New Jersey schools fail to take steps to maximize participation,’’ she said.

The problem, LaTourette explained, is that many schools continue to serve breakfast before school – when most students have not yet arrived. By making breakfast part of the school day, just like lunch, schools can reach all children who need this morning nutrition to concentrate and learn. Known as breakfast after the bell, this approach typically involves serving breakfast in the classroom or another location during the first few minutes of the school day.

“When schools serve breakfast after the bell, participation skyrockets,’’ LaTourette said. “Many New Jersey schools have successfully adopted this approach, but many have stubbornly resisted, while others have rolled back programs due to logistical concerns.’’

A new state law promises to reverse this slide, she added.

Enacted in May 2018, state law now requires schools with at least 70 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals to serve breakfast after the bell. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture has notified 99 districts, comprising a total of 237 affected schools, that implementation plans must be submitted by May 31, 2019. Schools must begin serving breakfast after the bell in September 2019.

Other states that have implemented similar requirements have seen participation skyrocket, receiving millions more in federal dollars to fight childhood hunger and ranking as best in the nation.

“We expect that the new school breakfast law will reverse our downward slide in serving school breakfast to students in need,’’ said LaTourette, whose organization pushed for the law’s passage. “We look forward to working with school leaders across the state to implement this sensible change so all New Jersey children begin their day with a good breakfast that can boost school success.’’

Despite last year’s setback, many New Jersey schools have effectively implemented breakfast after the bell, proving that this is a do-able solution to childhood hunger, said Lisa Pitz, outreach director, Hunger Free New Jersey. From large urban districts like Newark, Camden and Atlantic City to smaller districts like Bound Brook and North Haledon, school leaders have made breakfast after the bell work, Pitz said.

In fact, Newark ranked 4th nationwide in FRAC’s companion report, School Breakfast: Making It Work in Large Districts, with 92 percent of district students receiving breakfast.

Those districts that successfully implemented breakfast after the bell have fueled New Jersey’s rise in the school breakfast ranks from 46th in 2010 – the year before the launch of the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign, a statewide coalition that advocates for breakfast after the bell and other child nutrition programs.

“Leadership is key,’’ LaTourette said. “When you have a superintendent who recognizes that nutrition and learning go hand-in-hand and who makes breakfast a priority, you have a successful school breakfast program. And that equates to more students beginning their school day ready to learn.’’


About the report

The Food Research and Action Center measures the reach of the federal School Breakfast Program by comparing the number of low-income children that participate in breakfast to those that participate in school lunch. The School Breakfast Scorecard contains national and state data for breakfast participation. School Breakfast – Making it Work in Large School Districts surveys large urban school districts across the country on school breakfast participation rates and policies during the school year. Both reports are available at www.frac.org.

Hunger Free New Jersey works to change policy and practice so that all New Jersey residents have healthy food to eat, every single day.