School meals help prevent childhood obesity and decrease food inequities, which COVID-19 has exacerbated. With food insecurity on the rise, it is critical that school meal programs employ equitable meal distribution strategies.

To understand how urban schools with large populations of economically vulnerable students distributed school meals during COVID-19, a team of researchers, including from the Tisch Food Center, conducted a case study of four of the largest urban school districts in the United States: Chicago Public Schools (CPS), Houston Independent School District (HISD), Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), and New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). The following are key findings from the study:

  • Each District Had a Different School Meal Distribution Strategy. CPS, LAUSD, and NYCDOE served grab-and-go meals, while HISD served groceries. NYCDOE provided information and resources on school meals in 11 languages, while CPS only provided information in English. NYCDOE also offered Kosher, Halal, and vegetarian options for each meal.
  • Student Participation in Schools Meals Decreased during COVID-19The greatest drop in participation was in NYCDOE, where the number of meals served per day in April was only 32% of the typical number of meals served. For all districts, participation in school meals was higher than the 15% participation that experts are now warning is the national norm.
  • More than 50% of School Meal Sites Were Located in Higher Poverty Areas. HISD had the greatest percentage (68%) of sites in areas of higher poverty, and NYCDOE had the greatest number (301).
  • More than 50% of School Meal Sites Were Located in Higher Minority Areas in Most Districts. CPS was the only district that did not place more than half of its school meal sites in higher minority areas.
  • Only HISD Placed More than 50% of School Meal Sites in Food Deserts. NYCDOE placed only 5 of its meal sites (1.1%) in food deserts.

Please share with your social media networks:

  • How did four of the largest urban school districts distribute school meals at the start of COVID-19? Researchers, including from @TischFoodCenter, conducted a case study of @ChiPubSchools @HoustonISD @LASchools @NYCSchools. Check out our research brief:

Access the policy brief on How Urban Districts Distributed Meals during the 2019-20 School Closures.

You can access the full case study which was published in the Journal of Urban Health here.