Building Healthy Communities

Project Title

Universal School Lunch Phase II: Maximizing Participation

Grant Amount


Priority Area

Building Healthy Communities

Date Awarded

December 10, 2018






The successful advocacy campaign to bring universal school lunch to all 1.1 million New York City public school children was a powerful first step in helping kids have access to the food they need to be healthy and learn well.

Although the universal school lunch victory was momentous, the campaign’s work continues. Currently, an average of 650,000 students are eating school lunch in New York City, primarily in elementary schools. After the first full year of universal school lunch, an additional 26,000 children on average are eating school lunch every single day. With the proper resources, Community Food Advocates (CFA) estimates that up to 90,000 new students, primarily in middle and high schools, will participate over the next two years. In 2018, NYHealth awarded CFA a grant to ensure continued uptake and maximum participation in universal school lunch for all New York City public school students.

Under this grant, CFA supported and implemented activities to ensure maximum participation in universal school lunch. CFA collaborated with the New York City Department of Education on a social marketing and communications campaign, including ensuring that the content, messaging, and graphics are informed by parents’ and students’ input. CFA focused on cafeteria redesign in middle and high schools, with the goal of making the atmosphere more inviting and increasing student lunch participation. It also partnered with the New York City’s Office of Food & Nutrition Services (SchoolFood) to re-establish Nutrition Committees, which comprise students, parents, teachers, administrators, parent coordinators, and SchoolFood staff, to identify and implement strategies to improve the quality and appeal of food at their schools. To monitor implementation, CFA worked with schools to implement best practices and to address the most significant community-identified barriers to participation, including the taste, quality, and appeal of school food.