This year our grantees published important findings focused on timely, policy-relevant topics including COVID-19 relief programs and policies, school meals, nutrition assistance programs, food retail, food banks, and more. Here we revisit five of our most popular research products from 2021.

1. The Importance of Healthy School Meals

Healthy School Meals for all, also known as universal free school meals, provides all enrolled children in a school operating the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Programs a free breakfast or lunch, regardless of their family’s income. A systematic review highlights the international evidence regarding the impact of healthy school meals for all on students’ school meal participation rates, nutrition and dietary intakes, food security, academic performance, attendance, body mass index, and school finances. We developed an infographic that highlights 7 key benefits of healthy school meals for all.

This systematic review was part of a special issue published in the journal Nutrients in March that included 15 studies that provide important insights on the progress schools have made in promoting healthier school environments, based on data from USDA’s School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study (SNMCS).

Our fact sheet presents 10 key findings from the special issue and SNMCS, covering a variety of topics including school meals and snacks, the school food environment, school meal participation, and state and local policies including universal free meals.

2. Strengthening the Public Health Impact of SNAP

This report identifies seven key policy opportunities that have the greatest potential to improve SNAP participants’ nutritional status and health. The full report also provides a research summary of the effectiveness of SNAP, reviews prior efforts to increase the public health impacts of SNAP, and goes into greater depth on the current policy landscape and key actions for each of the seven opportunities presented.

For a snapshot, check out the infographic we developed.

3. Promoting Nutrition in the Charitable Food System

In 2020, we released our Nutrition Guidelines for the Charitable Food System. Since then, HER has partnered with organizations around the country to support implementation of the guidelines and we’ve continued to work with Feeding America as they updated their Nutrition in Food Banking Toolkit. Released this year, the toolkit is a resource to help the charitable food sector better understand and meet the nutrition needs of people experiencing food insecurity. This year, we also worked with SWAP—Supporting Wellness at Pantries, a stoplight nutrition ranking system—to update their tools to align with HER’s food bank nutrition guidelines and pilot test them with food banks.

To learn more about HER’s work in the Charitable Food System during 2021, read our Impact Story, “Supporting Food and Nutrition Security Through the Charitable Food System.”

4. WIC During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Despite the significant need for food assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic, WIC participants faced many barriers to accessing WIC services and redeeming benefits, including difficulty accessing required in-person appointments, limited availability of WIC-approved food items, and inability to redeem WIC benefits online. In response, Congress authorized the use of waivers that would allow WIC program flexibilities to address these barriers.

HER funded four research teams to examine the implementation of WIC remote services and online grocery ordering during the pandemic. Over the past 18 months, these research teams have conducted analyses and published their findings. We just published a research brief that presents key findings from all four studies.

5. Feeding Kids Ages 2-8

Dietary recommendations are available about what to feed children ages 2 to 8 for optimal health, but relatively little guidance exists about how to feed those children. To address this gap, Healthy Eating Research convened a national panel of experts to develop evidence-based best practices and recommendations for promoting healthy nutrition and feeding patterns among children ages 2 to 8.

The report presents over 30 recommendations for parents and caregivers. The resulting recommendations reflect evidence that shows autonomy, structure, and repetition are key to helping young children develop healthy eating habits. In addition to a technical report presenting evidence for over 30 recommendations, we developed a variety of resources for parents and caregivers including fact sheets, a portion size guide, videos, and Instagram posts, which can be found on our Tips for Families page.