The emergency school meals program provided free meals to children in the United States (US) during COVID-19-related school closures. This scoping review aims to synthesize the existing qualitative empirical evidence published between March 2020 and January 2023 on the operations and utilization of emergency school meal programs during the pandemic. Qualitative, US-based peer-reviewed literature was collected from three sources: (1) parent review of all federal nutrition assistance programs; (2) systematic search of four databases; and (3) manual search of grey literature. Our final sample included 21 articles/reports, including 14 mixed methods and seven qualitative-only projects. Articles spanned all U.S. states. Articles had similar research questions to understand school meals and/or general food access during COVID-19, with an emphasis on long-term policy implications. Findings were sorted into two categories: operational challenges during the pandemic and solutions to address inequities in school meal distribution during and after the pandemic, particularly during school closures such as summers or future emergencies. This review highlights the importance of emergency school meal programs and provides insights into addressing challenges and promoting equity in future out-of-school times. These insights could be applied to policy and practice change to optimize program budgets, increase reach equitably, and improve access to nutritious meals among populations at highest risk for nutrition insecurity.
Published: August 2023
Authors: Harper K, Bode B, Gupta K, Terhaar A, Baltaci A, Asada Y, Lane H
Assessing participation in and implementation of summer electronic-benefits-transfer and non-congregate-meal programs in rural areasSummer EBT and non-congregate meals are summer meal options that have known associations with reducing food hardship and barriers to food access. But take-up can vary across states, which creates disparities among marginalized populations. The study aims to analyze the coverage, take-up, and implementation decisions made around Summer EBT and non-congregate meals. The research team More
Examining the economic value of free school meals to inform future policy decisions on expansion of free school meals in the U.S.Growing evidence suggests free school meal policies improve student health outcomes and nutrition equity. A key barrier to passage of these policies is concerns regarding potential costs, thus, a broader value for money evaluation is essential to inform policy decisions. This study aims to compare ‘intervention’ states with free school meal policies (i.e., universal free More