School lunch programs offer an array of benefits for children. They provide low-cost nutritious food, reduce hunger, and help children perform to the best of their abilities in the classroom. But experts say there is more work to be done to ensure that all children can benefit from the programs.
An October 24, 2019 article in Popular Science described how sometimes children with unpaid school lunch debt are “shamed” in various ways—such as by receiving a cold instead of a hot lunch—and how some families can’t afford even reduced-price lunches or may be put off by filling out the application.
Juliana Cohen, adjunct assistant professor of nutrition at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that seeing kids shamed for lunch debt shows that national programs need to provide more funding so that all children can receive nutritious meals. She added that school lunch-related stigma can harm kids’ mental health, increase their stress, and worsen their overall cafeteria experience. For kids who feel labeled by receiving school lunch, “when we remove that stigma, it makes a big difference in kids’ lives,” she said.
Read the Popular Science article: Penalizing kids for school lunch debt can harm their mental health