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A key centerpiece for health in schools: free lunch

Originally posted on The Boston Globe.

Ripple effect of these meals is widely felt.

Re “Advocates seek to keep school lunch free” (Page A1, March 26): Free school meals directly support the health and development of school-age children by delivering consistent access to nutritious foods. For those who participate, these programs are linked to improved test scores, lower absence rates, improved behavior and dietary intake, and lower risk of obesity. School meals also benefit entire families, including those with young children not yet in the school system, by easing pressure on often-constrained family food budgets. By saving money on up to 10 meals each week for their children during the school year, parents have additional resources to spend on food at home as well as on other expenses and basic needs that are essential for children to live healthy lives.

In many ways, the pandemic-triggered free lunch program has acted as a pilot for universal school meals. Its uptake has demonstrated a tremendous appetite for the program across families of all income levels. Its popularity among families, school administrators, school nutrition staff, and policy makers alike underscores the ripple of benefits beyond school-age children.

As a longtime national leader in education and health innovation, Massachusetts should not only extend this program in light of Congress’s failure to do so but also be among the first states to commit to the radically logical idea that all children, regardless of income, should have free access to nutritious meals in school.

Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba

Executive director

Dr. Charles J. Homer

Advisory board chair

Children’s HealthWatch

Boston Medical Center


Ettinger de Cuba has a doctorate in health services research.