Healthy Food, Healthy Lives

Project Title

Implementing Free School Meal Expansions Across New York State

Grant Amount


Priority Area

Healthy Food, Healthy Lives

Date Awarded

March 11, 2024




In Progress


Free school meals are a proven strategy to reduce food insecurity, improve mental and physical health, boost academic performance, and increase educational and economic equity.

Students who eat daily school meals consume more fruits, vegetables, fiber, and whole grains. When meals are free to all, stigma and shame decreases and participation increases. In 2023, NYHealth grantees Hunger Solutions New York (HSNY) and Community Food Advocates—with the Healthy School Meals for All New York Kids Coalition—secured a signature policy win that substantially expanded access to free school meals for New York State public school students. While there is much to celebrate, policy is only as strong as its implementation, and technical complexities must be addressed. The expansion relies on a federal provision known as Community Eligibility that weaves together federal and State funds. Participating schools need to make financial contributions, which are then subsidized by the State. The schools need expert support to navigate the federal and State application processes so that New York maximizes participation and realizes the full promise of the expanded universal school meals policy. In 2024, NYHealth awarded HSNY a grant to provide technical assistance for policy implementation, ensuring as many children as possible benefit from the expansion of universal free school meals across the State.

Under this grant, HSNY will continue co-leading the Healthy School Meals for All New York Kids Coalition. It will work with the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to identify and conduct outreach to eligible schools not currently participating in the federal Community Eligibility Provision. HSNY will support schools with their applications for the federal program and new State subsidy. Additionally, it will support schools in maximizing other federal programs like SNAP enrollment and benefits. HSNY will track and analyze free school meals participation data and provide feedback to NYSED about gaps and opportunities to adjust school outreach activities, improve application processes, and streamline school enrollment. It will also use the data to inform the development of technical assistance and target schools in districts with historically low participation. HSNY will educate stakeholders about free school meals developments, including the importance of sustained State funding and the Community Eligibility Provision. It will also organize coalition calls, briefings, and webinars; submit testimony supporting school meal investments; and disseminate social media content to share the impact of the expanded program and investment.