Many schools like the Union House Elementary in south Sacramento, CA serve their after-school program students dinner as more districts sign up to provide a third meal in the day – along with breakfast and lunch – to low-income students.
This program comes as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which provides federal funding for schools to serve dinner as part of their after-school program if at least half the students at the school qualify for free or reduced-priced lunches, writes Diana Lambert at the Sacramento Bee.
The Department of Education says that so far, 228 California schools have begun participating in the program.
Laurie Pennings, the department's manager of the Child and Adult Care Food Program, said:
"All of our agencies that are participating love it.
"The kids are thrilled to have a dinner when they get out of school."
However, critics question whether schools should be providing three meals a day.
Radio host and conservative social commentator Rush Limbaugh said:
"Why go home? Just raise them all 24/7 at the school."
The Elk Grove Unified district serves 3,200 students dinner at 22 school sites every day. These meals consist of a sandwich or wrap, fruit, a vegetable and milk.
And, starting next month, the Sacramento City United district will begin serving dinners, too.
The pilot program will continue through the school year, said Gabe Ross, district spokesman.
"For many of our families these are the best meals or only meals they get."
Before the expansion of the program, thirteen states and District of Columbia provided school dinners. The cost of the program comes to around $641 million between 2011 and 2020, says the Congressional Budget Office.
However, the new federal measures have come under criticism by Idaho Congressmen who believe that the ban on flavored milk is unreasonable and allowing low-fat flavored milk is consistent with government dietary guidelines, writes Sean Cockerham at the Idaho Statesman.
While the government requires schools to offer milk with each school lunch and breakfast, the new rules ban flavored milk that contain fat. And this is the element of the policy that has come under fire from Idaho politicians and businessmen, as the state is the third-largest producer of dairy products in the United States.
Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo said:
"The point is that the federal government, the Department of Agriculture, should not be issuing essentially these rigid mandates that are not necessarily founded in the proper dietary science.
"People can argue one way or the other on it, but we should let our local school districts and others involved in the school food program be the ones who make the decisions."