New York school officials are pushing for free school lunches for all New York students.

On Wednesday, the New York School Nutrition Association (NYSNA) launched a statewide campaign to secure funding for free meals for children.

“In a hunger-free school, kids come through their lunchroom doors as equals, with everyone entitled to the same meal and no one needing to provide that they are paid up or sufficiently poor to eat for free,” NYSNA Executive Director Jennifer Martin said.

A group of cheerful small school kids in canteen, eating lunch.
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During the COVID pandemic schools across New York State provided free meals to students, even when students were learning remotely.

However, federal waivers that gave schools the ability to provide students with free meals are set to expire in June. The federal government has failed to extend the waivers or provide additional funding, according to the NYSNA.

Elementary Pupils Collecting Healthy Lunch In Cafeteria
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The issue of free lunch, at least for now, is left to New York State leaders. Because of that, the NYSNA has launched a comprehensive statewide campaign to urge state legislators and Gov. Kathy Hochul to include the Healthy School Meals for All proposal in the FY2023 state budget.

“We bus children to school, we provide them with technology to learn; nutrition is another important factor in their success,” Martin added. “We need to ensure that our students are ready to learn by providing them with free nutritious meals. Not doing so is a real disservice to our children.”

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More than 300 state education associations, anti-hunger groups, child nutrition advocates, and school districts have joined NYSNA in the fight to continue providing free meals to students, according to the NYSNA.

“For thousands of children in New York State, the meals they receive at school are the only meals they will receive that day. Our young people learn better when they can focus on their lessons instead of the hunger in their bellies, and our young people are successful when they are fueled by healthy food," NYS Senator Michelle Hinchey said. "It is incumbent upon us as a state – especially as a leading agricultural state – to fund universal school meals so that every student has access to free, nutritious, and locally sourced food while they are in school."

Elementary Pupils Enjoying Healthy Lunch In Cafeteria
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In schools with universal meals, students had improved results on standardized tests, attention and learning retainment, and overall tardiness, officials say.

“Every school in this state should offer healthy school meals at no cost for their students – regardless of income,” Assembly Member Harry Bronson said. “Our students deserve equal access to a nutritious breakfast and lunch at school to support their health and well-being. There is a direct link between academic performance and healthy school meals. The future of New York State is our children and we must do everything we can to ensure our education system is one that promotes equity in our schools.

Elementary Pupils Enjoying Healthy Lunch In Cafeteria
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Participation in school nutrition programs also has been shown to result in decreased rates of mental illness, depression, disruptive behavior, and obesity, and improved rates of overall behavioral health, according to the NYSNA.

See How School Cafeteria Meals Have Changed Over the Past 100 Years

Using government and news reports, Stacker has traced the history of cafeteria meals from their inception to the present day, with data from news and government reports. Read on to see how various legal acts, food trends, and budget cuts have changed what kids are getting on their trays.

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