Nutritious school meals are important

Food insecurity is real and exists in Sheboygan County.

According to the US Census Bureau’s 20102014 American Community Survey Five-Year Estimates, 2,754 children in Sheboygan live in families at or below the poverty level. In 2016, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services, a family or household of four making $24,300 or less annually is considered to be in poverty.

Low-income families may struggle to put food on the table. A family’s food budget typically comes from what is left after paying for rent or mortgage, car payment, fuel, insurances, utilities, etc. According to the United Nations’ Committee on World Food Security, “food security exists when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life.”

The connection between food, learning and growing is critical. According to Tufts University publication The Link between Nutrition and Cognitive Development in Children, “Undernourished children are typically fatigued and uninterested in their social environments. Such children are less likely to establish relationships or to explore and learn from their surroundings. Undernourished children are also more susceptible to illness and, thus, more likely to be absent from school.”

The publication explains further the developmental impact on undernourished children.

Offering lunch to our youth while at school can help bridge the gap. The National School Lunch Act was passed in 1946. It was enacted after an investigation into the health of young men rejected in the World War II draft showed a connection between physical deficiencies and childhood malnutrition. According to the Food Research and Action Center, it was a “measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children.”

The Sheboygan Area School District offers breakfast and lunch during the school year and summer. Many schools in the county are taking the word “nutritious” to heart when it comes to food security and are implementing Farm-to-School programs that feature fresh, local, seasonal produce prepared nearby or on-site.

Free breakfast and lunch are available in the summer to all children younger than 18 at sites throughout Sheboygan — including Jefferson, Longfellow, James Madison, Pigeon River and Wilson Elementary Schools and North and South High Schools — Monday through Thursday until July 28. Each Thursday a local Harvest of the Week is featured and, at the elementary schools, ambassadors from Nourish — a non-profit organization in Sheboygan — engage students with an educational message on the week’s produce and encourage students to try the fresh food with high-fives, stickers and a smile. Food insecurity is real in our community and school lunches help bridge the gap. The school food service leaders in our community are working hard behind the scenes and on the lunch line to provide good food for our youth and Nourish is working alongside them to teach kids and the community the importance of fresh, local ingredients. The importance of nutritious school meals extends beyond the individual child. What students eat today will impact who they will become, their capabilities and the role they will play in our community tomorrow.

Heather Cleveland is the executive director of Nourish