Elementary Pupils Enjoying Healthy Lunch In Cafeteria Sitting Down Smiling At Camera

The importance of getting kids to the table

Free or reduced-cost meal applications lead to more than a meal

August 31, 2022

An often-overlooked part of the school day, “school lunch” offers kids more than a meal. Studies show that kids who eat a healthy breakfast and lunch are more attentive and engaged in the classroom, leading to better grades, better attendance, and higher graduation rates.

For the past two years, all Colorado students ate for free with the help of federal pandemic-era funding. This year, that funding is gone, and families must complete a free or reduced-price meal form to determine their eligibility or pay the approximate $3 to $4 that a meal costs.

“For the price, school lunch is a tremendous value for what you get,” said Mary McPhee, Garfield Re-2 director of Nutrition Services. “Where else can you get a hot, fresh, healthy, on-site meal with protein, fruit, and veggies for that amount? A less-healthy fast-food meal would cost more than twice as much.”

The value goes beyond just a meal. Each district receives state funding for students, based on the total number of free or reduced eligible percentages throughout the district. This funding is often used for staff, equipment, and supplies, as well as federal refunds for some technology purchases.

Students who qualify for free or reduced lunch may also qualify for free or reduced testing or college application fees. In addition, the percentage of students who receive free and reduced lunch is used on many local and community-based grant applications to determine the level of need or eligibility for funds.

“This funding is distributed across the district, benefiting all students,” added Octavio Maese, Roaring Fork School District Nutrition Services director. “It’s a win-win. Kids get a great meal, and the funding helps reduce other fees parents may have. It’s more than just lunch. Even if you aren’t sure if you qualify, fill it out. Our staff can help you determine eligibility.”

Information is kept confidential and within the school district. Applications are available online or at the front office of all schools in the district.

Jody Williams, District 16 Food Services director, added that teachers and parents noticed a big difference when kids were eating for free.

“We heard parents say, ‘My kids never ate school lunch before,’” Williams said. “Teachers reported more kids eating, and less food went to waste. Kids ate without worry. They didn’t worry about cost or how to pay for lunch. They didn’t worry about the stigma of someone knowing they were on free or reduced meals. More kids eating means more kids ready to learn.”

Garfield County Public Health Nutrition Programs Manager and Registered Dietitian Christine Dolan works with the districts on healthy eating and active living initiatives. She said that the staff works hard to strike a balance between what kids will eat and what they should eat.

“The lunch staff has worked so hard to improve the quality of school lunches. They have even taken scratch-cooking, boot-camp classes,” she said. “They may serve pizza but offer healthy toppings or a salad bar. They have been tremendous partners to work with.”

For more information contact:
• Christine Dolan, Garfield County Nutrition director, 970-945-6614, ext. 2020
• Nicole Loschke, Garfield 16 public information coordinator, 970-285-5701, ext. 5177
• Kelsy Been, Roaring Fork School District public information coordinator, 970-384-6009
• Theresa Hamilton, Garfield School District No. Re-2 director of communications, 970-665-7621