The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

The official student newspaper of Lower Merion High School since 1929

The Merionite

Why we need free lunch

Steingard discusses the academic, physical, and mental benefits of free lunch.

Access to books, transportation, water, food—all are necessary for students to learn in school. American schools try to provide these items to students for free, except for one crucial omission. Students across America are required to pay for school lunch. In fact, every child must pay to eat unless they are in severe financial need (130% below the federal poverty line). This seems fair at first; why should financially stable students have access to free lunch? However, the current system creates an unfair stigma against students who receive free lunches. Moreover, free lunches provide benefits to students of all socio-economic backgrounds. To ensure a high quality of life and education for every American student, we must make universal free lunch a reality.

Students across the country have described the shame and humiliation they receive for eating a free lunch. There are many examples of the way our lunch system has forced kids to stick out for eating free, such as having to explain their situation at lunch checkout or carrying around a pass, according to Mother Jones. Free lunch is seen to many students as an embarrassing form of welfare. Some students would rather not eat at all than be seen with a free lunch. But after all, humans need to eat. Making school lunch free for all students would reduce this stigma. If everybody is a “free lunch kid,” nobody is.

Second of all, the physical and academic benefits of free lunch are clear. According to the No Kid Hungry foundation, hungry children typically have less energy and ability to focus. With energy provided by free, nourishing food, every student can remain engaged in their learning. The United States can pour as much money as we want into the best teachers and resources, but kids will not learn if they are hungry.The physical benefits of healthy food are also apparent. School lunches are required to have a minimum nutritional value, including aspects such as whole grains and antioxidants. The risks of obesity, heart disease, cardio-vascular disorders and other health issues shrink when eating a healthy diet. When every student is provided with a free lunch, they will reap the benefits of healthy eating in and out of school.

Feeding kids seems like a pursuit that most people could get behind. But there are some opponents of this idea. Mainly, feeding every child simply seems too expensive. Why waste money on feeding kids who can afford lunch, anyway? However, this idea has many fundamental flaws. As addressed earlier, only feeding the neediest results in a brutal stigma. But more than that, free lunches actually can benefit the economy, helping both the government and citizens flourish. Students who have access to free lunch “increase their lifetime income by 3 percent,” according to a study from Lund University in Sweden. Even more convincing, the Rockefeller Food Initiative estimates that for “every dollar our country spends on school food, we receive more than two dollars back.” This shows the magnitude of help free lunch could provide the nation’s economic state, all while helping its children. There are also medical savings that free lunch could bring to the US, as children who eat healthy foods are less likely to need medical help. Lastly, the government also was able to provide universal free lunches. During the Covid-19 pandemic, every child had access to free lunch, according to CNBC. This came at no additional state or local taxes. 

A universal free lunch bill must be passed by the federal government. Legislators from all over the country have already planned measures that attempt to keep free lunches away from children. The Republican Study Committee, of which ¾ House Republicans are a part of, recently published a budget that attempted to restrict lunches to only extremely poor students, and eliminate community free lunch programs. As proven earlier, every child, no matter their socio-economic status would clearly benefit from a free lunch. Because individual states may shy away from this life changing act, universal free lunch must come from the federal level. According to Feeding America, all 50 states are home to food insecure children. No matter the state line, every student should have access to food. 

Overall, there is no valid reason that a student in America should have to pay for lunch. Every student should have the right to a meal that keeps them fueled through the school day. Universal free lunch will help America’s children academically, physically and mentally. What are we waiting for?

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