Universal free school meals through the Community Eligibility Provision

Maryland food service provider perspectives

  • Amelie A. Hecht Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4942-5574
  • Roni A. Neff Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Tam Lynne Kelley No Kid Hungry Maryland
  • Keshia M. Pollack Porter Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
Keywords: Community Eligibility Provision, Food Waste, Implementation Science, Nutrition Policy, School Meals, Universal Free Meals, Wasted Food

Abstract

Since 2014, the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) school meal funding option has enabled high-poverty schools nationwide to serve universal free breakfast and lunch. Evidence suggests that CEP has benefits for student meal participation, behavior, and academic performance. This qualitative study explores perspectives among food service staff (n=28) in CEP-participating school districts in Maryland on (1) implementation barriers, (2) implementation best practices, and (3) impacts on students, school operations, and the broader food system. Perceived benefits of CEP include increased meal participation, reduced student stigma and financial stress among parents, and improved staff morale. Most participants did not report any change in wasted food or relationships with local or regional farms associated with CEP adoption. Implementation barriers, including concerns regarding CEP’s impact on federal, state, and grant education funding, provide insight into potential policy interventions that may promote uptake. Best practices, including strong communication with parents and creative strategies to boost student meal participation, can be adopted by other districts.

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Author Biographies

Amelie A. Hecht, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Research Associate, Department of Health Policy and Management. Hecht is now National Poverty Fellow, Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Roni A. Neff, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Health and Engineering, Center for a Livable Future

Tam Lynne Kelley, No Kid Hungry Maryland

Senior Manager

Keshia M. Pollack Porter, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

Professor, Department of Health Policy and Management

Published
2021-04-09
How to Cite
Hecht, A., Neff, R., Kelley, T., & Pollack Porter, K. (2021). Universal free school meals through the Community Eligibility Provision: Maryland food service provider perspectives . Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 10(2), 529–550. https://doi.org/10.5304/jafscd.2021.102.033