Child Nutrition Programs are federal initiatives that focus on providing nutritious meals to children, to ensure their dietary needs are met in the crucial growth years. This purpose is met by facilitating all public and nonprofit private schools to provide low-cost or free meals to their students during their active school hours.
The state of Alabama also collaborates with the federal government in overseeing the smooth functioning of the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program for Alabama. The state has also made it mandatory that meals offered by these schools must be at par with the American dietary guidelines, and meet the federal nutrition standards.
A newsletter – published by the Alabama School of Fine Arts – has also mentioned about the mandatory provision of the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program that requires fresh fruit and vegetable to be included in free and reduced-price meals. Therefore, it is evident that the state of Alabama is not just focusing on feeding the children with healthy food, but also has prioritized their health and nutrition as well.
To benefit from the Child Nutrition Program Alabama, one must be a resident of the state of Alabama, and be a parent or guardian to school-going children. The eligibility criteria for availing free or low-cost meals can be checked at Benefits.gov by providing one`s annual household income and the number of people in each household.
Under the National School Breakfast and Lunch Program, 92,000 schools in America are providing free or low-cost lunches to their students, whereas 70,000 schools offer breakfast. These schools send meal subscription options to parents at the beginning of every school year. Although, if required, an application for availing these meals can also be submitted any time during the school year.
Child Nutrition Programs offered by the US Department of Agriculture under their Food and Nutrition Service agency are not just limited to school lunch and breakfast programs. There is a Special Milk Program which caters to those children who do not participate in other meal service programs. Such children are eligible to receive free portions of milk at school, and the government covers the cost of the milk provided to these students.
It is important that attention is not just concentrated to one medium to reach out to the children so as not to miss out other segments, such as those falling in the pre-school age bracket or those who struggle for food after school hours. Therefore, The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) focusses on meeting nutritional needs of children at day-care homes and child care centers. In fact, it also covers adult day-care centers to meet the dietary needs of senior citizens. These programs are available for the deserving individuals nationwide, and therefore, can also be availed by the residents of Alabama.
Alabamians must also be aware of the federally funded Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). During summer break, children from low-income or underprivileged families may be exposed to food deficiency. To avoid this situation, the government provides funds to organizations that distribute free meals to children below the age of 18 during these holidays. Some of these organizations operating in Alabama are: Break for a Plate and Share Our Strength`s No Kid Hungry campaign to name a few.
USDA extends its support to the cause of child nutrition above and beyond the initiatives discussed in this article. Details about each program can be accessed through the official website for US Department of Agriculture.
In addition to the measures taken by the US government, local government agencies, private schools and private organizations are welcome to sponsor subsidized or free-of-cost meals to cater to the child nutrition needs in Alabama. While many have taken an initiative for the local community, others need to step up given the economic situation post-COVID-19, and the prevailing high poverty rate in Alabama.