In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the United States Congress authorized the United States Department of Agriculture to waive a variety of school meal regulations and funded school meals daily for all students at no charge regardless of family income. Since federal Universal Free School Meals (UFSM) ended with the 2021-2022 school year, several states, including California and Maine, adopted state-level UFSM policies. This study aimed to understand parent perceptions of school meals and the federal and new state UFSM policies in California and Maine, including potential challenges and benefits to students and households. A mixed methods study design was used. A quantitative cross-sectional survey was administered, and semi-structured interviews were conducted in English and Spanish during the 2021-2022 school year. The quantitative survey was administered to parents of students in elementary, middle, and high schools in rural, suburban, and urban communities in California (n=1,110) and Maine (n=80). Qualitative interviews were then conducted with a subset of these parents in California (n=46) and Maine (n=20) using ZoomTM. Most survey participants (708 out of 1,190; 59.5%) and interviewees (40 out of 66; 60.6%) were parents of students who were eligible for free or reduced-price meals (FRPM). Parents' perceptions of UFSM, school meal quality, and experiences applying for FRPM were examined. Tests of proportions were used to analyze survey data. Using grounded theory, interview transcripts were analyzed qualitatively by 2 trained research assistants, applying principles of content analysis to identify themes and domains. Inter-rater reliability was conducted. Parents perceived that school meals and UFSM saved families money and time, as parents had fewer meals to purchase and prepare for their children. Additionally, UFSM reduced parents' stress and reduced stigma for children and for parents, who described feelings of embarrassment when they previously filled out paperwork for FRPM. While parent perceptions of school meal quality and healthfulness were mixed, most parents reported feeling grateful for school meals. Parents had mixed opinions on the quality and healthfulness of school meals, but believed UFSM saved them money and time and reduced their stress. Parents also felt UFSM reduced stigma for families.

Full Text
Published version (Free)

Talk to us

Join us for a 30 min session where you can share your feedback and ask us any queries you have

Schedule a call