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LETTERS

A key centerpiece for health in schools: free lunch

Students at Plymouth County Intermediate School during lunch time. A pandemic-triggered expansion of the federal school nutrition program, which has funded free school meals for all students nationwide since March 2020, is slated to end in June after Congress failed to authorize its extension. Advocates for Massachusetts children say the state should pass legislation that would keep school lunches free for all indefinitely.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Ripple effect of these meals is widely felt

Re “Advocates seek to keep school lunch free” (Page A1, March 26): Free school meals directly support the health and development of school-age children by delivering consistent access to nutritious foods. For those who participate, these programs are linked to improved test scores, lower absence rates, improved behavior and dietary intake, and lower risk of obesity. School meals also benefit entire families, including those with young children not yet in the school system, by easing pressure on often-constrained family food budgets. By saving money on up to 10 meals each week for their children during the school year, parents have additional resources to spend on food at home as well as on other expenses and basic needs that are essential for children to live healthy lives.

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In many ways, the pandemic-triggered free lunch program has acted as a pilot for universal school meals. Its uptake has demonstrated a tremendous appetite for the program across families of all income levels. Its popularity among families, school administrators, school nutrition staff, and policy makers alike underscores the ripple of benefits beyond school-age children.

As a longtime national leader in education and health innovation, Massachusetts should not only extend this program in light of Congress’s failure to do so but also be among the first states to commit to the radically logical idea that all children, regardless of income, should have free access to nutritious meals in school.

Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba

Executive director

Dr. Charles J. Homer

Advisory board chair

Children’s HealthWatch

Boston Medical Center

Boston

Ettinger de Cuba has a doctorate in health services research.


Elected officials, school leaders should try what the kids are having

Not only should all breakfasts and lunches at schools be free to students, but also, superintendents and elected officials should eat the same food that is served to students (“Advocates seek to keep school lunch free”). In 2017, I started inviting elected officials and nonprofit leaders to have school lunch with me. We ate the same food, in the same place, and in the same limited time as the students. Everyone said we must do better. I later testified at the Boston School Committee on the state of our school lunches.

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Six months after I started hosting these activities and posting them on #BPSLunchDate, the city switched vendors and the food improved slightly. More needs to be done to improve the quality, selection, and delivery of something as basic and as important as feeding our children.

For the record, Mayor Michelle Wu, then a city councilor, was tremendously supportive at our lunch date, bringing BPS leadership with her. Superintendent Brenda Cassellius and I were planning our lunch when the pandemic struck. Former councilor Annissa Essaibi George was a repeat guest, and former acting mayor Kim Janey, then City Council president, was my last guest, in 2020. City Councilor and chair of the Education Committee Julia Mejia will be my next lunch guest. I invite all gubernatorial candidates to eat school lunch with me and my students.

Michael J. Maguire

West Roxbury

The writer teaches at Boston Latin Academy, is the father of two BPS students, and serves on the executive board of the Boston Teachers Union.