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The School Dinner Program: A New Frontier

Updated on January 1, 2015
The Afterschool Dinner Program's goal is to help improve student nuitrition and encourage school community dinners.
The Afterschool Dinner Program's goal is to help improve student nuitrition and encourage school community dinners. | Source

The New School Dinner Plan

The number of children who stay after school due to working parents or school activities has increased over the last decade. If a child is enrolled in sports, a parent does not have time to pick him or her up for dinner. The usual meal plan is a fast-food meal or a type of protein bar and juice afterwards. Then, they head home where dinner, if any, will be served at 7 p.m or later.

Another scenario is the afterschool program where a child is either served a simple snack or brings a snack from home to eat during this time frame. For some children, this is dinner. The concern from school officials is the nutritional value of a snack that consists of cookies and a sugary drink, and even if it is healthy, it is still not sufficient to provide a complete meal.

In 1999, government records showed nearly thirty-one million people lacked sufficient access to quality food. The number increased to forty-eight million in 2010. School breakfasts served daily has risen from 3.5 million in 1991 to 9.2 million in 2011. School snacks and lunch are other meals served to children that would add to these cost figures.

In 2011, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA) which provides funding to schools that offer nutritious dinners to children enrolled in after-school enrichment programs. The program is administered through the USDA and meant to support the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and Woman, Infant and Children (WIC) program. The aftercare subsidized meal program is now (2014 government statistics) available in all 50 US states.

The 1992 Food Guide Pyramid

The Illustration focused on concepts of variety, moderation, and proportion.  It was considered a total diet approach.
The Illustration focused on concepts of variety, moderation, and proportion. It was considered a total diet approach. | Source

The New Food Guide

The new 2011 (introduced in 2010) Food Guide is an eye-catching visual cue promoting nutritional guidelines.
The new 2011 (introduced in 2010) Food Guide is an eye-catching visual cue promoting nutritional guidelines. | Source

The Revised Food Pyramid

When discussing the nutritional food programs offered by the government, such as the HHFKA, it is helpful to look at the requirements for meeting a complete healthy meal for children.

From 1916 until the 1930s, the guidelines were focused on protective foods and centered around food groups and household measures. In 1940 the guide changed to the "basic seven" food groups:

  1. Leafy greens and yellow veggies
  2. Citrus fruits, tomato, raw cabbage
  3. potatoes and other veggies and fruits
  4. milk, cheese, ice cream
  5. meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dried peas, beans
  6. bread, flour, cereal: whole-grain, enriched or restored
  7. butter and fortified margarine

However it lacked specific serving size and was considered too complex for the average family to follow.

Skipping over to the familiar 1992 model (see photo post), the pyramid focused on a total diet approach with goals for nutritional foods and in moderation. The visual guide spotlighted daily food variety, moderation and proportion in three calorie levels. It covered five food groups, including fats and sugars.

The newly revised food guide (replaces the pyramid), introduced in conjunction with the HHFKA, shows a dinner plate icon as a reminder for healthy eating and does not provide proportion size. The sections list fruits, grains, vegetable, protein and dairy as the daily food choices and variety. It does not promote desserts or junk food.

Daily Food Guide: Based Upon A 2600 Calorie Food Pattern

Food Item
9 ounces
Rice, cereal, breads, baked goods, pasta: 50% of grains should be whole grain
3.5 cups
Dark Green, Orange, Dry beans & peas, Starchy
2 cups
Blueberries, Watermelon, Apples, Banana, Cherries, Oranges
3 cups
Milk (2%, Skim, or Fat-free), yogurt, cheese, fortified soy milk
Protein Foods
6.5 ounces
Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, beans, nuts, seeds
Note: Daily calorie intake varys from 1000 for 2 year olds to 2200+ for 9 - 17 year old children.

USDA Afterschool Meal Guideline

  • 1 serving of milk (2% or less)
  • 2 servings of fruits and or vegetables
  • 1 serving of grains
  • 1 serving of protein

An afterschool dinner can be served hot or cold. A typical meal may include a turkey sandwich, baby carrots, apple, and low-fat milk. Source:

Basis for Afterschool Dinner Program

In 2011, there were 46.2 million households (15%) at the poverty level in the United States, and 16.1 million of this figure were children under the age of 18 years. A total of 57.2% of US food insecure households participated in a major Federal Food Assistance program. This is a large number of homes without proper food nutrition who are having to resort to aid in feeding their families. Furthermore, the current national unemployment rate is 8.9%, and the states of Rhode Island and California lead at a rate of 11.7% (Source:

With these figures it is easy to see why the US government has passed a food program to help sustain children who may not have proper nutrition at home. Schools report students often come to school hungry because they have not eaten since school lunch the previous day. Additionally, students have long bus rides after school that drop them off at their front door after 7:30 p.m. This is much too long for a child to wait for a meal. Lastly, the lack of proper nutrition is affecting school performance and overall academic success.

The purpose of the program is not only to feed students, but to introduce children to proper nutrition. Dinner meal programs include interesting foods such as sheperd's pie, organic fruits and vegetables, salads, yogurt, broccoli, and chocolate milk.

Afterschool meal program must include educational/ enrichment programming located in communities where 50 percent or more of the children qualify for free or reduced price meals (Cost $2.86 per meal).
Afterschool meal program must include educational/ enrichment programming located in communities where 50 percent or more of the children qualify for free or reduced price meals (Cost $2.86 per meal). | Source

Voice Your Opinion!

Are you for or against the new HHFKA Afterschool Dinner Program?

See results

The Afterschool Dinner Argument

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

—Chinese proverb

The HHFKA program is not meant to take the place of the family dinner at home, but many believe it enables parents to ignore their children's needs. The school is replacing the family unit due to the increased meals served to children. Those who argue against the program state schools should teach children about nutrition but leave the actual meals for the family home environment. Isn't family dinner time where children learn manners, proper etiquette, and are given loving attention?

Another popular discussion centers around the additional school cost to serve the food, supervise the children, and janitorial services to clean-up and maintain the facility. The meal cost is a $2.86 per child, but the hidden costs would increase this amount.

Others argue that low income families already receive food stamps from government funding, shouldn't this be deducted from their total received? The additional food stamp allowance would only increase the fraudulent spending on junk foods, drugs and other non-essential items.

Food Program Trivia Quiz

view quiz statistics

Should We Feed The Poor?

If you refuse to listen to the cry of the poor, your own cry will not be heard.
Proverbs 21:13 TEV

We live in a time where most people live day by day, they only know where their present meal is coming from, and the number increases daily. As one can see by the statistics posted, America is in need of assistance in feeding the masses. We cannot ignore their cries for help.

The federal government, funded by people, carries a heavy load in providing meals to school children. Some say that that this is worth the cost because these children are not given the attention they need from parents at home. However, we must pray and plan for a day when this is behind us and all people can provide for themselves and take pride in doing so.

The School Dinner Purpose


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    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      3 years ago from The Beautiful South

      It is so hard to believe that so many people and many right here at HP blame the poor (and homeless) for being that way! Great scripture you gave and should be a reminder to us all.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      3 years ago

      Peg, I believe the dinner program has changed once again this past year. The food items offered are quite different. It seems not as enjoyable for the children. But, this may be a matter of personal preference. Thanks for the comment and feedback on the topic.

      Esoteric, I agree. If we only had equal pay for all and jobs to match this would not be a problem.

    • My Esoteric profile image

      Scott Belford 

      4 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      A consequence of growing Economic Inequality

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      4 years ago from Northeast of Dallas, Texas

      What a shame it is that our family units have become so decomposed. You've presented the dilemma here between feeding the hungry and the expectation that parents will provide a nutritious family meal at the end of the day, where memories, mores and values will be imparted. Unfortunately, with so many parents unavailable or unequipped to provide for their children, we have left it to the government to fix. Thank you for this enlightening explanation of children and the School Dinner Program.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Cclitgirl, I only hope this program does makes the budget cuts this year. Children should never have to go to school hungry. Thank you for sharing and your valued comment.

      Audrey, the program is a Godsend for children in need. Let's hope and pray it continues this year.

      Jackie, I just read where some school programs have cut this from their agenda. Hope it changes as people become aware of needs and interest in good food choices.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 

      5 years ago from The Beautiful South

      Since this is not a current article I assume they have changed plans since this? I mean with the children protesting or something over the meals? I really don't know the details, do you?

    • vocalcoach profile image

      Audrey Hunt 

      5 years ago from Idyllwild Ca.

      While parents need to step-up-to-the-plate and be responsible for feeding their children nutritious meals, this is not always the case. For these neglected children as well as those that participate in after-school programs, this School Dinner Program is a Godsend.

      Thank you Dianna for this very good and informative hub. Voted up and across (not funny) and sharing. ~ Audrey

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      5 years ago from Western NC

      I had NO idea about this program, but I already love it! So many people don't have adequate food and it's completely ridiculous with all our technology and advances that ANYONE, ANYWHERE should go hungry.

      Thanks for sharing this! I'm sharing it myself! :)

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      PHdast7, Thank you for the feedback and wonderful support. Blessings.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Hello Diana - This is till such an important issue and you did an exccellent job laying out all the issues and concerns. Thought it was time to share it again. Hope all is well. Theresa

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Suzette, I only wish every child had a good breakfast before school. What a blessing that would be!

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      My Esoteric, I agree. If parents were more responsible in their provisions for children, we wouldn't have this problem.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Theater girl, I agree. Parents often send their kids with fast food or allow them to make poor food choices in the cafeteria. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Blond Logic, your comparison to adult habits make sense. As adults, we have a little something to get us started. Children need this as well. Great add!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 

      5 years ago from Taos, NM

      Interesting and informative article, teaches. Having taught in an inner city school, I know that these meals provided at school are the only meals some of these children eat. There is no food at home, parents at home, or their parents are involved in illegal activities. Some have never experienced a 'family dinner' in their entire lives. Call me a bleeding heart, but no child in the U.S. should ever starve or go hungry. I believe as a country we are responsible for feeding our children. The children are not responsible for their particular situation - that is the responsibility of the parents. I will gladly pay tax dollars for the food programs at our schools - lunch and dinner if necessary. Great article and discussion on this topic.

    • My Esoteric profile image

      Scott Belford 

      5 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      Thank you @Teacher for the awesome Hub; thank you Obama/Democrats for the awesome program, and thank you Americans for paying for it. The fact that it is needed in the first place is a crying shame; the fact that it is there when it is needed speaks to the good nature and morals of what this nation "is supposed" to be about.

    • Theater girl profile image


      5 years ago from New Jersey

      As a public school teacher, I agree that so many kids need food. And I see too many parents spending money on phones, iPads and the like, rather than proper nutrition. If a turkey sandwich and an apple helps the kids and gives them comfort, then so be it.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      5 years ago from Brazil

      I had no idea this existed. Many years ago when I was doing some training in an inner city school, they had a breakfast program. I think that anyone who disagrees with providing a child with nutritious food, whether or not their family receives food stamps, needs to sit in on a class of students. I was surprised by the amount of time it took a teacher to begin teaching. Much of the time was getting control of a class to start the lesson. If eating proper food can help this, why would anyone deny them this. These will be the adults of the future, shouldn't we give them the best start possible?

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Crafty, I would rather spend a little money to have a child's needs met than to complain about the cost. Yes, don't judge others until you have walked in their shoes. Thanks for your added value to the content. Enjoy your week.

    • CraftytotheCore profile image


      5 years ago

      This is so interesting on so many levels.

      We live in an area that's ravished with poverty. Yet, the one soup kitchen closed probably 12 years ago. There is one church that still does a meal once a week but some people have no transportation and can't get to it.

      Many parents around here are single. They rely on after-school programs so they can work full-time.

      In my experience, I have found the majority of people who are against school-based programs have no children. I don't believe we can ever judge a person unless we've walked in their shoes.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Billips, it's the opportunist who ruins the whole barrel. I love that children are being fed and not going hungry, but as you stated, sadly - parents are neglecting this important meal as an opportunity to build relationships at home. I appreciate your insightful add to this topic. Hope your day is going well, friend.

    • billips profile image


      6 years ago from Central Texas

      A very interesting article - there is no argument that we must feed hungry children - no one can rationally dispute that - I think the problem arises when we try to weed out the hungry from those opportunists who are in the lineup to take whatever is given whether they are in need or not - I agree with you that, sadly, schools are often taking over duties previously done by parents - where to draw the line is the problem - B.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Alicia, I agree that feeding hungry kids is important, regardless of the redtape involved. Thanks for Commenting. Enjoy your weekend.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for all the research and information, Dianna. It's terrible that children are going hungry. I think that it's important that they get food now, even while debates about who should feed them are taking place. Giving children nutritious food in adequate quantities should be a priority.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Midget, proper nuitrtion is the main focus of the program as many children are not getting this for a whole day. It causes learning problems at school.

      Vellur, the program focuses on nuitrtional value of meals, not sure how the mini treats will fit in, unless you count the snacks served in the morning. When my son was in high school they used to have a 2 pm ice cream break. He always looked forward to that each day -- that's one way to give treats and get the dairy in children.

      Pavlo, we will have to see how the program works through the next couple of years. It will be interesting to follow.

      THanks to each of you for stopping by here to read the post. I so value your opinions and contributions to the content. Enjoy your day fully and be safe.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 

      6 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      The hub is great. I just wonder does this program really work like that?

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 

      6 years ago from Dubai

      A great hub and a great program. I got to know about this by reading your hub. Children will really benefit if the meals served are nutritious and at the same time a little interesting for children if they add mini treats at the end of the meal. A very useful and informative hub. Voted up.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      6 years ago from Singapore

      It is great information, Diana. Parents need to know what the program is trying to achieve and the benefits of proper nutrition as well. Thanks for sharing, and I share too.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Knowing what the program is about will help with the understanding, let's hope children do not have to go without meals anymore. Thanks for your input, Ignugent.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      This is really a very useful information. Parents will understand the new programs of the school and they will be properly informed about the healthy nutritious food.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Glimmer, your story is very much what we have in America today, the children are going hungry. I have heard tummies rumbling and it is so pitiful. The dinner program is free to schools with 50% children who are eligible for the service (low-income families). It is worth your school district's time and effort to research this possibility. I enjoyed our chat and thank you for the added flow to the topic. Blessings.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 

      6 years ago

      This was very interesting. We do not have a "dinner" program in our school district and with budgets as tight as they are it will probably never be implemented. Where I used to live I delivered school supplies to inner city schools from our church and I asked the principal once if the supplies were really all used. She replied that they were indeed and that over half of the children that come to her school only cam because of the free lunch. It was the only food the children ever got for the day. That really hit me hard.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Dr BJ, I agree that at some point they must be able to get off the free meals and sustain their families. That is the case with most federal aid, people seem to find loopholes to abuse the system. Let's hope that they progam will help those who really need the aid. Thanks for your visit and valued comment. Enjoy your week.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      6 years ago from south Florida

      There is no more worthy cause than seeing that our school children are well fed. But as you point out, Dianna, in this very well-written hub, at some point parents must take the serious responsibility for feeding the children they choose to have.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Thank you, Phdast7, for visiting the hub. I hope your evening is a good one.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Excellent article full of important information. Thank you Dianna.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Mhatter, you are correct - teachers were concerned as well as other parents about the children who were not able to keep up academically due to hunger. Thanks for your insight to this topic.

      Carol, we do have an abundance of food and should be able to spare and give to those in need. We are truly a blessed nation.

      Sturgeon1, we should not hesitate to give a child a meal - even if it is three a day. Great thoughts added here!

      Jools, I can see your reasoning on this. When I directed a child care we had some parents who took advantage of running late. Their kids were always the anxious ones waiting for mom or dad to pick them up. It has to have boundaries in order to work. Unfortunatley, the kids always suffer from the results.

      Michele, I don't know who it will al work out, but I do hope the kids who really need the extra meal will benefit richly.

      Thanks to each of you for you the value added through your comments. God bless!

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 

      6 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      Thank you very much for this hub teaches. I had no idea it was this like this. My daughter goes to a school were they have breakfast and lunch, but not dinner. I don't know what the other schools have. This is hard for the children who only get the breakfast and lunch.

      Thank you so much for letting us know about this.

    • Jools99 profile image

      Jools Hogg 

      6 years ago from North-East UK

      Dianna, interesting hub. In the UK, schools had to accept 'extended school' status (started in 2005) which basically meant schools had to provide extended services so be open from 8am to at least 6pm to provide breakfast clubs and after-school sports clubs etc. It is too much for schools now. Headteachers and teachers have enough to do coping with improving attainment without also having to ensure children are properly looked after long after their parents should come and take them home but this is the world we all live in now; people are working longer hours or 2 jobs just in order to make enough money to cope with life; it's a struggle for sure. I just wonder where it will all end . Schools providing evening meals seems like the next natural stage but some parents will take advantage of this for the wrong reasons.

    • Sturgeonl profile image


      6 years ago

      When it comes to providing our children with proper nutrition there should be no hesitation. Many parents struggle to make ends meet and must work long hours. Providing children with afterschool dinners is one way to make sure our children are cared for properly. It takes a village to raise a child!

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 

      6 years ago from Arizona

      It is hopefully the right of people to have food, a warm bed and healthcare. Now that is a perfect world. Anytime we can at least take care of hunger for people...anyway. We have abundance of food and everyone should be able to have some. I think the program has merit in many ways. But what about budgets etc. Where there is concern often a solution emerges. Thanks for putting this in front of us..many who are not aware of the school situation..

    • Mhatter99 profile image

      Martin Kloess 

      6 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for this. Though this wasn't part of my public schools support, concerned teachers inevitably brought up their concerns about student nutrition.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Bill, there are many who oppose the program for the fact government is funding a full day's worth of meals to families. I do support feeding the poor children -- it is the only food they get at times.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I'm with Janine on this one; I had no idea this program existed. I guess I'm for it simply because of the number of poor kids who would not have a meal after programs. Thanks for the info and excellent information.

    • teaches12345 profile imageAUTHOR

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      Janine, thanks for your view on this subject. I myself am still not decided upon the good of the program, but I do like that it helps the children who are hungry. Always good to see you, dear friend.

    • Janine Huldie profile image

      Janine Huldie 

      6 years ago from New York, New York

      Dianna, I truly didn't know much about this recent legislation and appreciate all the research you did and how well you presented the information. Definitely have to say I think it is a good idea in theory. I mean you are always going to have those who with come up with negatives and be a bit argumentative, but this really seems to have been done a good reason and therefor think it is fundamentally a good idea. Have of course voted and shared, too!!


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