**FILE** Courtesy of ucsusa.org

As kids prepare to head back to school for the 2022-2023 school year, one big change stands out: school meals are no longer free for all students nationwide. Yet, school meal programs will still play a crucial role in ensuring kids get three meals a day and have the nutrition they need to thrive in and out of the classroom. 

This year, school meal programs are returning to pre-pandemic systems. A major difference is that school meals will no longer be free for all students nationwide. In most instances, families will need to complete and submit an application to determine if their kids are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

With inflation at a 40-year high and food and fuel prices soaring, many families are finding it harder to make ends meet. Luckily, school meal programs can play a big role in filling the gaps. They’re healthy–in fact, research shows that for many kids, the meals they eat at school are the most nutritionally balanced meals they get all day. They’re also convenient, and can save busy parents the work of having to prepare breakfast and lunch each day.

“Just like books or pencils, food is an important school supply, helping ensure kids are nourished and ready to learn,” said Ayesha Holmes, director of No Kid Hungry, Maryland. “We want to be sure parents know that healthy school meals are available this year, but in order to receive them for free or at a reduced price, they’ll need to fill out a form with their school.” 

Submitting an application can mean so much more than just free or reduced-price school meals–completing that one form can result in discounted exam fees, waived college application fees, scholarship opportunities, and funding for classroom resources that will benefit all students.

Families should be sure to visit their school district’s website to fill out the school meal application or get a paper form from their school’s front office. After all, nutritious school meals are as important to students’ learning as notebooks and pencils.

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