Free school lunches “a huge relief” to students, parents and staff

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Like many other area schools, the Highland Community School District has extended their participation in the Summer Food Service Program through the end of the school year.

The federally-funded program allows all students to receive free breakfast and lunch regardless of financial need.

Rachel Cerny, Food and Nutrition Director for the Highland Community School District said numerous studies show that if students eat a balanced meal, they are less likely to have attendance problems, less likely to visit the nurse, less likely to have discipline problems and are more attentive during class. Balanced meals make kids learn better, but the extension of the Summer Food Service Program provides social and emotional relief to students and their families as well.

“Knowing that the student can eat both breakfast and lunch for free every school day takes a huge weight off of the family,” Cerny said. “The parent doesn’t have to worry about where they are going to find the money to feed their students and the students don’t have to worry about their parents sacrificing something else potentially, so they can eat lunch. The meals being free really levels the playing field at school.”

The meals students receive via the Summer Food Service Program are likely healthier than alternatives brought from home, which often contain items such as potato chips, candy and sweets. High schoolers often lean toward meals high in salt and fat and consume unhealthy levels of caffeine when left to their own devices.

Cerny said Highland is working to offer healthy food that even goes beyond the nutrition requirements outlined in the Summer Food Service Program.

“School meals are balanced meals,” Cerny said. “We offer whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, canned fruits are packed in either juice or have minimal sugar added and milk is fat free or low fat.”

Having free, healthy meals provided to all students throughout the entire year takes a significant amount of stress off food insecure families, busy families, or even just students who regularly forget their packed lunch at home. But it also provides relief to school staff.

“It is a huge relief just to be able to feed any and all kids that come through the line without having to worry about negative lunch balances,” Cerny said. “If the student comes through the line, we feed them.”

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