In approximately 100 counties across the United States, a majority of students qualify for free lunches. To qualify for free school lunches, a student's family must meet a low-income threshold set by the government that changes depending on family size. The qualifying income for a family of four is $31,590 or less.
HealthGrove, a health data analysis site from Graphiq, looked at U.S. Department of Agriculture data to find 100 counties where the most students qualify for free school lunches.
For these students, food security is a real problem, yet much of the food goes to waste.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act took effect in 2014, and it mandates that children put required fruits and vegetables on their plates. However, getting them to eat these foods is another story. Because of this, many people think food waste at schools has increased.
A study from Sarah Amin at the University of Vermont corroborates what many anecdotes describe -- though children selected more fruits and vegetables, many don't consume them and instead disposed of the food, leading to increased levels of waste. Conversely, a study from the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that levels of food waste remained similar before and after implementation of the act.
Because these studies looked at different schools, it's very possible that both are correct. And, though they deviate on result, both agree that food waste is a big issue.
In these counties, where need is highest and food waste prevails, maintaining healthfulness but increasing the palatability of the meals is crucial to the success of the children and the school lunch program.
Some school districts, such as those in Boulder, Colorado, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, have already started leading the way by partnering with local chefs and incorporating more engaging educational methods. However, many counties, such as those on the following list, simply don't have the finances for these types of measures, which is why the Department of Agriculture must keep working on this program.
With this in mind, here are the 100 counties where the most students qualify for free school lunches.