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.

School breakfast report released

New Jersey’s most impoverished schools are reaching less than half of their low-income students with federally-funded school breakfast, mainly because many continue to serve breakfast before school when most children have not yet arrived, according to a new report.

Under a new state law, these schools will be required to serve breakfast during the school day no later than September 2019, according to the report, published by Hunger Free New Jersey.

Known as breakfast after the bell, this approach significantly boosts student participation in the federal School Breakfast Program, which provides federal dollars to feed breakfast to low-income students in New Jersey and across the nation.

According to an analysis of state data conducted by Hunger Free New Jersey and the national Food Research & Action Center, 648 New Jersey public schools fall under the new law, which requires schools with 70 percent or more qualified students to serve breakfast after the bell.

Find local data.

These schools account for more than half of all students enrolled in the federal school meals program. Yet, in October 2018, just 53 percent of these students received school breakfast on an average day. More than 137,000 eligible children did not receive breakfast, the report found.

If these high-poverty schools achieved 80 percent student participation, they would collectively receive an additional $30.4 million in federal funds, based on FRAC’s analysis.  These funds could be used to combat childhood hunger, while removing a major obstacle to learning, the report said.

“We know that many children and teens face hunger on a regular basis,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey. “Many New Jersey schools have been proactive and implemented breakfast after the bell, proving that this is a do-able solution. Other districts, however, have resisted making the switch, so we expect to see a healthy increase in breakfast participation as a result of the new law.’’

Statewide, school breakfast participation slid for the second straight year, declining 5 percent from April 2017 to October 2018. Despite this setback, statewide participation is still up 65 percent since 2010 – the year prior to the launch of the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign, which aims to address childhood hunger through expanding participation in federal child nutrition programs.

The School Breakfast Program and others like it recognize the strong link between nutrition and learning, LaTourette noted. In passing the legislation in May 2018, the New Jersey State Legislature also recognized this link, requiring breakfast be offered as part of the regular school day, similar to lunch, in high-poverty schools.

“Serving breakfast before school makes it difficult for students to access this all-important morning meal,’’ LaTourette said. “Bus and family schedules and the stigma of coming to school early to eat keep many children away from the before-school breakfast table.’’

When breakfast is served during the first few minutes of the school and offered to all students, student participation skyrockets, she added.

In October 2018, 208 schools – or about one-third of the 648 high-poverty schools – were feeding at least 70 percent of eligible students, the report found. These schools are most likely already serving breakfast after the bell because it is very difficult to reach that level of participation with before-school programs, LaTourette explained.

But, 42 percent of these high-poverty schools – or 272 schools – fed less than half of their low-income students in October 2018.

“We hope local districts will use the information and statistics in this report to implement effective breakfast programs,’’ LaTourette said. “Federal dollars are available to ensure all children begin their school day with a healthy meal. Not only is this the right thing to do, it leverages our state’s considerable investment in public education by removing a major barrier to learning: hunger.’’

Read the report.
View and download local data.

                                                                                      ##

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

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.

New law requires school to serve summer meals

High-poverty schools must participate in the federal Summer Food Service Program, under a new state law.

On May 31, 2018, Governor Phil Murphy signed a law that requires school districts where at least half of students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals to participate in the federal Summer Meal Food Service Program.

This federally-funded program provide a solution to summertime hunger for kids who rely on school meals during the academic year. A growing number of communities across New Jersey are offering free meals to children in the summer at schools, parks, libraries and other places where children congregate.

The law requires these school districts to either become a summer meals sponsor or operate a site under an existing sponsor. This is different from the Academic Summer Lunch Program, which is only offered to children attending summer school. Districts must begin participating no later than Summer 2019.