School lunch program participation on rise, Agriculture secretary says

TRENTON – Agriculture Department officials hailed the increased participation in the state’s school lunch program Tuesday.

By the end of this school year, some 1,967 school breakfast programs will have been set up, serving 39.3 million meals, Secretary Doug Fischer told Assembly Budget Committee members. The department anticipates a 2 percent increase in meals in the next school year.

Fischer said part of the reason for the increase was that it “found chokepoints,” or bottlenecks such as a child not getting to school on time, and it addressed them.

The state is one of five states that successfully got school districts to allow students to have breakfast in the classroom, which is technically considered instructional time since students learn about nutrition and diets.

Previously, many hungry students were not able to eat school breakfasts in the cafeteria because of busing schedules. But once students were allowed to have breakfast in the classroom, “that in itself was a big help,” he said.

Fischer said lawmakers can help increase participation in the school breakfast program for qualifying students by getting the word out and helping schools erase the stigma that’s associated with subsidized breakfast or lunch. The secretary said there are various ways schools can shape the programs.

“It’s not a one-size fits all,” he said. “There are so many models for this.”

The state aid is in addition to the $425 million it receives from the federal government to run school breakfast and school lunch programs.

  School lunch program participation on rise, Agriculture secretary says