Originally posted on January 28, 2016.

Programs to Fight Hunger

Several government programs fight child hunger across Texas: SNAP, WIC and School Nutrition Programs (SNPs). In particular, SNPs safeguard the health and wellbeing of our nation’s future: our school children.

Through well thought out SNPs, children receive nutritious meals and snacks everyday regardless of parental income. For these eligible students, nutritious meals are provided at either a reduced cost or, in many cases, no cost at all to the families.  More than 3 million Texas school children qualify for a free or reduced school meal, and for many of these children, the meals eaten during the school day are the only substantial meals they will receive that day. For this reason, access to school meals is imperative for the success of our children.

The Importance of SNP

The number of households that struggle with food security in Texas approaches 1 in 5; meaning these families either went without or did not know when their next meal was coming. According to data provided by the United States Department of Agriculture, 17.2% of Texas households had low or very low food security from 2012-2014[1]. Similarly, the total number of Texas food insecure children is 1,899,310[2]. When our children are struggling to find food at home, they likely struggle to bring food to school, and rely on SNPs as a dependable food source during the school year.

 SNPs play a crucial role in reducing hunger and improving the health of children in America. Research has linked participation in school meal programs with better academic performance. A better-nourished child is a better learner and participant in school, with less absenteeism and tardiness and fewer visits to the school nurse. In general, children that consume enough food everyday have better cognitive, developmental and psychosocial outcomes.[3] SNP’s focus on nutritional food can also improve children’s overall dietary quality and lower the probability of children becoming obese and overweight[4].

How Does SNP work?

Every district chooses a strategy to bring meals to their students using a combination of federal programs listed. These federal programs can serve students both during and after school. In short, districts are not required to engage in these programs, but many find it both morally important and financially beneficial. Some district meal programs are stronger than others.

During the school day: 

●     The School Breakfast Program (SBP): This program allows school districts to serve a meal before or during the first part of the school day.

●     The National School Lunch Program (NSLP): This program enables school districts to serve a meal during the school day as well as gives districts the option to serve an after school snack (see below).

After the school day:
School leaders may also provide afterschool meals under the following programs:

●    National School Lunch Program: In addition to lunch, school districts can also use this program to provide after school snacks to students.

●     Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP): To qualify a school must be located in a low-income area, defined as an area where 50 percent or more of the students are qualified for free or reduced-price school meals. The schools must also sponsor or run an afterschool care program. Through this program, school districts can provide a snack, a meal, or both.

Background and Purpose of the Study

With 19.2% of American households with children struggling to provide enough food for all household members in 2014[5], there is a pressing need for strong and well-performing school meal programs. The present food ranking seeks to evaluate how large districts across Texas provide meals to low income school children. This work attempts to objectively compare school meal programs by focusing on meal participation rates and the afterschool meal programs offered in each district.

Many schools have improved student participation in their meal programs by offering a more varied menu and by using alternative delivery methods. When participation increases, school nutrition departments can reach more students in need and take advantage of economies of scale to optimize their meal costs and further improve their service[6].[6]


School districts must meet two criteria to be in this ranking:

·         the district must have 10,000 children enrolled

·         the district must have at least 60% of children eligible for free and reduced meals

We chose these two criteria because we consider ISDs with a large population of eligible students have the greatest opportunity to maximize federal funding for meals and snacks because of economies of scale.

The ranking uses weighted participation rates of students eligible for free or reduced meals in the school breakfast, the school lunch programs, and school snack and after school meal programs comparing performance across districts.

Key Findings

●     The majority of well-performing school districts are in Texas southern and western regions. These areas include the Rio Grande Valley, The El Paso area, and San Antonio.

●      Few districts implement the CACFP afterschool meal program (27%).

●     The strongest districts had eligible breakfast participation rates in the 80% range. On the other hand the weakest districts had eligible breakfast participation rates in the 20% range.

 Top Districts

Large Districts

 The top 5 districts with over 50,000 Students:



All DistrictsThe top 10 districts with over 10,000 students:

[1] “USDA ERS – Food Security in the U.S.: Key Statistics & Graphics.” USDA ERS – Food Security in the U.S.: Key Statistics & Graphics. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
[2] “Map the Meal Gap.” Feeding America. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
[3]J. Michael Murphy, Breakfast and Learning: An Updated Review, 3 Journal of Current nutrition and food SCienCe 3–36 (2007).
[4]M. Levine and J. Hewins, Universal Free School Meals, Clearning House Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy, volume 47, 11-12, p. 3
[5] “USDA ERS – Food Security in the U.S.: Key Statistics & Graphics.” USDA ERS – Food Security in the U.S.: Key Statistics & Graphics. Web. 12 Jan. 2016.
[6] Food and Research Action Center (FRAC) 2015, p. 2