Now that the school year has begun, after-school programs have welcomed students across the state. These programs provide safe places for children in grades K through 12 to participate in constructive activities to learn, study, and play. In addition to academic and social activities, after-school programs often provide a meal or snack to student participants in order to fill a much needed gap in nutrition.
Food insecurity affects nearly 1 in 4 families with children in Michigan. Without after-school meals, sometimes lunch at school is the last meal of the day for these at-risk children. Currently, 31% of Michigan students are responsible for taking care of themselves after school, without access to after-school programs while parents are working. Thirty-five percent of students without access to after-school programs say they would attend if they had access. These are the children who could also benefit most from the meals provided during after-school programs.
These after-school meals and snacks are funded under the Federal Child and Adult Food Care Program (CACFP). To be eligible for CACFP, an after-school program must be located in an area with 50% or more of students receiving free and reduced priced meals. After-school meals must meet the USDA nutritional standards, including a serving of milk, meat, vegetables, fruit, and breads. The snacks should include one whole serving of milk, fruits or vegetables, protein, and grains.
This nourishment provides essential nutrition to school-aged children that boosts their ability to concentrate on their studies and extra-curricular activities. Proper eating habits are taught young, therefore it is essential that these students are given proper nutrition in order for them to learn, play, and also develop healthy habits into adulthood. These are all factors that help ensure student success. In addition to proper nutrition, after-school programs have been linked to higher academic achievement and lower crime rates.
Overall, the meals served by after-school programs allow the families facing food insecurity to stretch their food dollars. Providing children with the opportunity to attend a structured after-school program that provides a nutritious meal can be just one more step in the path of life success for the children of Michigan.