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Dover-Eyota nutrition director petitions Congress for school lunch reform

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EYOTA, Minn. (KTTC) -- Studies show children learn better when they have full stomachs, and a new effort is underway to make sure they continue to get healthy and free lunches, even after the pandemic.

The dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic brought widespread distance learning for students across the country. For some children, their only meal of the day came from school. With so many children at home, there was a fear some would go hungry.

School nutrition leaders mobilized and transformed the way school meals are administered, offering pre-packaged curbside meals for breakfast, lunch and sometimes, dinner.

The school meals were free because the USDA expanded its National School Lunch and School Breakfast Program. The program was founded in 1946, with the goal of helping schools give free meals to undeprivelaged families.

The USDA expansion included all families, and no longer required families to fill out an application to qualify. The action allowed more flexibility to make sure children still got school meals for free.

This week, Dover-Eyota School District Nutrition and Food Director Carrie Frank joined the Minnesota School Nutrition Association in speaking to members of Congress. They are advocating for a permanent expansion of the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program, creating universal, free meals for students.

Frank said universal meals would help to end the the stigma families face when they can't afford to pay. She said not only does it help families, it helps the economy, too.

"School meals is an investment in our future," Frank said. "Making school meals universal would support the agriculture community, both local and throughout the United States. Dover-Eyota purchases much local, and so it would support the local farmer, but would also support the larger famers."

Frank said their meeting with members of Congress this week resulted in the USDA extending the National School Lunch and Breakfast Program through the end of September 2021.

She said they are happy about the extension, but will continue to lobby for a permanent program.

The School Nutrition Association position paper that was presented to Congress can be found on its website.

Megan Zemple

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