Sunday, November 6, 2011

In Favor of Free and Reduced

Free and Reduced Lunch. You've probably heard the term before. Thinking back to lunchtime in grade school, you waited - probably not patiently - for your tray filled with some type of reconstituted, re-hydrated, reheated foods that would satisfy your groaning stomach until the hunger pangs hit again after your last class.

And while it may have been a long time since you last had a school lunch, were you ever aware that your fellow classmates might have been part of the free and reduced lunch program? While it may be an unpleasant thought - a family who cannot afford to pay for their child's lunch at school - it's a reality that many American families face.

In Monroe County, where I attend school at Indiana University, the Department of Education's data from 2001 shows that nearly 26 percent of their elementary through high school population received a free or reduced lunch. And I can assure you that this number has only grown as more families struggle with the difficult economic times we're facing.

With all of the school programs that seem to be getting cut right and left, it is a blessing that we continue to have free and reduced lunch programs.

Lunch programs are extremely beneficial to schools. Eating a healthy lunch - coupled with a nutritious breakfast and snacks - helps students to stay focused in class and turn their attention towards learning rather than feeling fatigue caused by a lack of eating healthy foods.

And while the aforementioned benefits fulfill the base of one's personal needs, being able to eat lunch at school typically involves sitting around a cafeteria table where students talk, laugh and share stories. Lunchtime is when they can vent, express their emotions and work through problems. It's when they can be silly, talk about whatever they want and just be kids!

Thank goodness for free and reduced lunch programs. As they help kids learn the values of community mealtime, it is hope that they will carry this practice into their future - better understanding the magic that occurs when we eat together around the table.

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