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School-Based Models

School-based models aim to increase the accessibility of healthy food for school-aged children and adolescents. Over the course of one day, more than 44 million meals are served at U.S. schools, feeding students aged 3-18. Through breakfast, lunch, afterschool snacks, take-home programs, and summer food initiatives, schools help students of all ages receive important nutrients they need to be successful all year long.

School meals through federal programs are priced on a sliding scale, meaning children from lower-income households are charged less for meals. Students may qualify for free and reduced-price meals depending on their parents'/household income or if they are homeless, migrant, or in foster care.

Programs vary in scope from school gardens to the provision of three meals a day to all students. Programs focus on both increasing the number of meals available and increasing the quality of the food provided. Schools have a unique position to increase access to healthy food for children in rural areas because schools are trusted institutions and they serve a high number of children most days. USDA has compiled many evidence-based curricula around healthy eating and obesity prevention that are topic-specific and can be selected by age of audience. Curricula vary in terms of cost.

Most school-based food programs do not have to start from scratch because most have existing kitchens or other food preparation facilities that can be improved with relatively small investments. Using resources available to schools can be a cost-effective way to increase access to healthy food for hungry children and their families.

School-based models include: