Children need healthy and balanced meals to perform well in school. Universal Free Meal programs improve English and Math test scores and may even reduce obesity among middle school students. District and school leaders nationwide should consider adopting this program.

Document Type

Research Brief


universal free meals, school lunch, student performance, academic success


Education Policy | Policy Design, Analysis, and Evaluation




The authors thank the NYC Department of Education for providing data and for their support, especially the Office of School Food, Dennis Barrett, Stephen O’Brien, and Armando Taddei. For data support, advice, and suggestions, they thank Meryle Weinstein, Emily Gutierrez, Zac McDermott, Siddhartha Aneja, Michele Leardo, Sarah Cordes, Joanna Bailey, and Brian Elbel. The authors also thank seminar participants at the University of Connecticut, the University of Virginia, the University of Hong Kong, the Andrew Young School at Georgia State University, the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and participants at the APPAM, AEFP, and NTA conferences for useful comments on previous drafts. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the National Institute of Health, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or the NYC Department of Education.


National Institutes of Health, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development,

Funding ID


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.