After school supper is a big missed opportunity in Hawaii

For many children, the breakfast and lunch they get at school is the only healthy food they eat all day. School meals are critical to student health and well-being, especially for low-income students. These meals ensure that students have the nutrition they need throughout the day to learn. Research shows that school meal programs reduce food insecurity, obesity rates and poor health, and improve learning outcomes for participating students. In addition, school meal nutrition standards are having a positive impact on student food selection and consumption, especially for fruits and vegetables.

We’ve reported on how only 42 percent of Hawai‘i’s low-income students who eat free or reduced-price school lunch also eat school breakfast. But did you know there’s an even less frequently-used school meal program from which Hawaiʻi students could be benefiting?

Only 182 children statewide benefited from after school suppers on an average weekday during October 2017, according to a new report from the Food Research and Action Center. This figure has dropped slightly from 198 in October 2016.

This equates to only three children for every 1,000 students that ate free- or reduced-price lunch, placing Hawai‘i second-to-last for after school supper across the nation (only North Dakota ranks lower).

Because after school suppers are a relatively new option—they first became available nationwide through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010—every state has room to grow participation in the 2018–2019 school year and beyond. However, three states are currently approaching a participation rate of 150 children for every 1,000 students getting free or reduced-price school lunch (15 percent).

If Hawai‘i were to achieve that 15 percent goal, nearly 10,000 more low-income children would benefit from an after school supper, and our state would be receiving more than $590,000 per year in additional federal reimbursements.

Only sites in communities with schools where more than half of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-price lunch are eligible for reimbursement for the program. Sites must offer some kind of activity, such as tutoring or sports, in order to participate. Therefore, offering a supper after school would mean more than just a healthy meal for many children. Programs often see better attendance rates when they start offering suppers, meaning more children get access to enriching social experiences in a safe environment.

More information about enrolling in the after school suppers program can be found on the Hawai‘i Child Nutrition Programs website.