Report

True Cost of Food: School Meals Case Study

This report shows that school meals are essential for the health and economic stability of communities. With these findings, policymakers, food professionals, advocates, communities, and individuals are better equipped to maximize value to society, including through investing in school meals, by creating a food system that is more nourishing, regenerative, and equitable.

School meals provide critical nutrition for 30 million children and their families across America. When children have their basic needs met, they are healthier and they learn better. For them, school meals often provide the healthiest food they have access to each day and a foundation for their wellbeing and long-term success.

In this report, The Rockefeller Foundation and the Center for Good Food Purchasing find that while school meal programs cost $18.7 billion per year to run, they provide nearly $40 billion in human health and economic benefits even when we measure only their benefits to human health and economic equity.

This analysis of the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program demonstrates how the True Cost Accounting methodology, which considers multiple dimensions of a food product, program, or system, can help elucidate the impacts of different food system solutions and policies on intersecting issues and systems. The case study builds upon our July 2021 report True Cost of Food: Measuring What Matters to Transform the U.S. Food System, which outlines additional areas of impact that must be considered when analyzing the food system.

With the new analysis on school meals, governments, advocates, corporations and individuals are better equipped to maximize value to society, including through investing in school meals, by creating a food system that is more nourishing, regenerative, and equitable.

  • 92%

    of school food workers are female

  • $40billion

    in annual benefits to society from school meal programs

  • 1/2of a child's calories

    are consumed on school days

  • 84%

    of low-income, food-insecure households with school-age children access free or reduced-price lunches through school meals programs

  • Report

    True Cost of Food: School Meals Case Study

    Our latest report True Cost of Food: School Meals Case Study demonstrate school meals are essential for the health and economic stability of students and communities. Using the True Cost Accounting methodology, The Rockefeller Foundation and the Center for Good Food Purchasing find that every dollar invested in U.S. school meal programs provides more than $2 in benefits to society.
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Resource

Analytical Model

Download the analytical model

This analytical model contains the key calculations, data sources, and assumptions that we used to account for the human health, environmental, societal, and economic impacts of the school meal programs. We believe the model represents a critical first step in estimating the true value of school meals. There is much more work to do and we invite all interested partners to continue building, improving, and expanding on the model we made available here.

Related Updates

Nov 15 2021
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New Report: Every Dollar Invested in U.S. School Meal Programs Provides $2 in Health and Economic Equity Benefit
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