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Meaningful Support

 

Providing nutrition support from pregnancy to birth and beyond.

USDA promotes healthy eating across all life stages.

Read USDA Nutrition Security Blogs on Meaningful Support

Ensuring benefits are adequate to support healthy eating patterns

School-Age Children
  • During the COVID-19 pandemic USDA worked with State agencies to distribute Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) food assistance to households with children who did not have consistent access to free or reduced-price meals at school or in childcare. P-EBT was also available for eligible children in the summer when the risk of food insecurity increases.
  • Through the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program, USDA provides school-age children in low-income countries a wide range of nutrition support, including culturally appropriate daily school meals and/or snacks made primarily from donated U.S. commodities. The program also provides nutrition education in the classroom and leverages proven social and behavior change interventions to encourage healthy eating in surrounding communities.
All Life Stages
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits increased by 21 percent when USDA reevaluated the Thrifty Food Plan. This action resulted in the first permanent increase to the purchasing power of SNAP benefits since the Thrifty Food Plan was introduced 45 years ago and will better support healthy eating.
  • USDA works to advance fairer access to nutrition assistance in all U.S. territories, particularly the three that receive Nutrition Assistance Program (NAP) block grants in lieu of SNAP. USDA provided $2.5 billion to Puerto Rico, $30 million to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and more than $10 million to American Samoa, which allowed these U.S. territories to boost monthly NAP food benefits for families hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. This added financial support ensures that all people in the U.S. territories—regardless of race, ethnicity, or background—have better access to healthy food.
  • While the economic and demographic circumstances of households are closely correlated with food security, not all households with similar circumstances face the same food security status, since many other factors can be important determinants. USDA is investing in a study to better understand the relationship between poverty, well-being and food security, aiming to identify measures of poverty and well-being associated with household food security status among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)-eligible participants and non-participants in persistent poverty counties.

Updating program nutrition standards to reflect the latest nutrition science

Mothers, Infants, and Young Children
  • The Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC) serves about half of all infants born in the United States. USDA is proposing updates to the WIC food package based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans and recommendations by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to ensure the food package continues to provide high-quality nutrition to pregnant and postpartum women, infants, and children up to 5 years of age who are at nutritional risk. The WIC food package has been shown to increase the availability of healthy foods and beverages on shelves of WIC-participating stores, especially in low-income neighborhoods (benefiting non-WIC consumers too).
  • The second edition of USDA’s Study of Nutrition and Activity in Childcare Settings (SNACS) will assess the nutritional content of meals served as part of the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), observed nutrient intake of program participants, plate waste, wellness policies and practices, and meal cost.
School-Age Children
  • Meals served at school, during the summer and in child care facilities are vital to the health, well-being, and futures of our Nation’s children. USDA’s National School Lunch Program, Summer Food Service Program, and the Child and Adult Care Food Program provide critical nutrition to tens of millions of children every day, while exposing them to healthy foods and nurturing healthy habits they can carry throughout their lives. The updates to the school meal nutrition standards, to reflect the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, give schools time to transition from current, pandemic operations toward even more nutritious meals.
  • The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) regularly conducts the School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study (SNMCS), a comprehensive study, which assesses the nutritional content and quality of the meals offered and purchased at school, plate waste, the school nutrition environment, school food service operations, costs to produce school meals, as well as student participation, characteristics, satisfaction, and attitudes towards the school lunch and breakfast programs.
  • The Special Milk Program (SMP) provides milk to children in schools and childcare institutions who do not participate in other Federal meal service programs. The program reimburses schools for the milk they serve. Schools in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Programs may also participate in the Special Milk Program to provide milk to children in half-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs where children do not have access to the school meal programs. By providing low-fat and fat-free fluid milk, the SMP increases children’s access to nutrients, such as calcium, vitamin D, and potassium, that are typically under consumed in childhood and adolescence.
All Life Stages
  • The USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) supports research focused on food-based strategies that improve the nutritional health of all Americans and the scientific basis for Federal recommendations such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and Dietary Reference Intakes. ARS also studies the health benefits of the recommendations put forth in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Delivering high-quality nutrition education

Mothers, Infants, and Young Children
  • The WIC Works Resource System (WIC Works) is an online education, training and resource center for State, local and clinic staff administering the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). WIC Works features many USDA nutrition education resources as well as resources from a variety of partners, including WIC State and local agencies, WIC clinics, other federal agencies, and non-government entities that offer WIC-relevant resources.
  • The USDA National Agricultural Library (NAL) provides credible nutrition information for women, infants, and toddlers. The Food and Nutrition Information Center at the NAL also provides trustworthy infant and toddler nutrition resources for nutrition educators, professionals, and researchers.
School-Age Children
  • Since 1995, the Team Nutrition initiative has provided schools, child care sites, and summer meals sites with evidence-based educational resources and grants to promote nutritious food choices within these environments. In March 2022, Team Nutrition released the “Best Practices for Reducing Added Sugars at School Breakfast” training guide and an updated “Guide to Smart Snacks in School.” In May 2022, Team Nutrition awarded approximately $6 million in Team Nutrition Training Grants to support the implementation of nutrition education efforts in schools, including local school wellness policy development and assessment.
  • The Food and Agriculture Service Learning Program supports programs that aim to increase children's knowledge of agriculture and improve their nutritional health.
  • The 4-H Military Partnership Professional Development and Technical Assistance Program provides professional development and technical assistance to land-grant institutions and the Cooperative Extension System, in collaboration with other organizations, so they can develop and deliver educational programs for military-connected youth.
  • The International Agricultural Education Fellowship Program provides school-based agricultural education within secondary schools of priority countries, namely Ghana, Uganda, and Guatemala. Instruction includes lesson plans on various topics in agriculture, a few of which connect human nutrition to agriculture. Additionally, the program provides school garden demonstrations, animal husbandry, and conservation agriculture management practices training to support food security and sustainable nutrition.
  • Nutrition.gov provides children’s nutrition information, activities, and recipes. The popular Kids’ Corner features interactive websites, games, and worksheets to teach children about the importance of nutrition and physical activity.
All Life Stages
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed)
    • SNAP-Ed provides direct education to SNAP eligible populations. SNAP-Ed also supports activities intended to shape policies, practices, and physical environments to support healthy eating. Such efforts are widely considered the most effective strategies for creating large-scale improvements to the food environment, addressing food security, reducing diet-related chronic diseases, and promoting health equity.
    • SNAP-Ed is available in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Guam, and is delivered through a network of 167 implementing agencies, leveraging approximately 34,000 local partnerships. In fiscal year FY 2023, SNAP-Ed allocated $506 million to States to help people participating in or eligible for SNAP lead healthier lives.
  • MyPlate
    • MyPlate is the consumer translation of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and helps consumers put the recommendations in action. MyPlate.gov is home to consumer tools and information to help Americans make healthier food choices.
    • The Shop Simple with MyPlate tool helps people save money on groceries and discover new ways to prepare budget-friendly foods. SNAP participants can use their zip code to find retailers or farmers markets that accept SNAP EBT, as well as healthy eating incentive programs, to make their food dollars go farther.
    • Americans can also receive healthy eating tips from MyPlate on their Amazon Alexa devices, or on their smartphones or tablets with the free Amazon Alexa mobile application. The MyPlate Alexa skill provides information on feeding babies and toddlers as well as tips for older children and adults.
  • USDA is engaging with and learning from Tribal nutrition education stakeholders about how to optimize, expand, and adapt nutrition education efforts to align with cultural values and preferences. USDA is committed to supporting our Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) partners design and deliver nutrition education initiatives that reflect and include traditional foods and promote Tribal food sovereignty. As part of this work, USDA launched a nutrition paraprofessional training program to help our FDPIR partners build capacity for culturally inclusive nutrition education.
  • The Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) is the Nation’s first nutrition education program for populations living below the Federal poverty line and remains at the forefront of nutrition education efforts to address food and nutrition security. Operating through land-grant universities, EFNEP uses hands-on learning, applied science, and program data to support participants’ health and well-being. EFNEP is proven to improve nutrition, stretch food dollars, and increase physical activity.
  • The New Technologies for Ag Extension competitive grants program provides funding for a cooperative agreement that contributes to “Enhancing Electronic Extension (E3).” E3 is a national web-based information and education delivery system. It engages land-grant institutions and the Cooperative Extension System to provide objective, scientific information to the public that answers questions and guides decisions, including information about the nutritional value of food in a changing climate context.
  • Nutrition.gov launched in 2004 to offer credible nutrition information from Federal and Cooperative Extension System sources to help consumers make healthful eating choices. In support of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. Nutrition.gov provides life stage nutrition resources for the public. To help the public achieve and maintain healthy eating patterns over time, the site also features online tools, recipes, and information about diet and health conditions.

Providing breastfeeding promotion and support

Mothers, Infants, and Young Children
  • Breastfeeding is the best source of nutrition for most infants and could also reduce the risk for certain health conditions for both infants and mothers. In FY 2021, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) provided nutrition counseling and breastfeeding promotion and support to about 1 million breastfeeding participants through 9,000 WIC clinics across the country. In the last two decades, the percentage of infants participating in WIC who were breastfed increased from 50 to 72 percent. The percent of women enrolled in WIC who initiate breastfeeding also increased significantly over the last two decades; however, the breastfeeding rate among Black women continues to be about 10 percentage points lower than white women. Continued efforts are needed to remove barriers to WIC and eliminate this racial disparity.
  • USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) conducts a large-scale, longitudinal study of WIC infant and toddler feeding practices, which follows mothers and their infants starting at the prenatal period until at least the child’s fifth birthday, regardless of their continued WIC participation status. Information is collected at regular intervals regarding early feeding practices; dietary intake; nutritional status and health; WIC awareness and utilization; maternal education, employment, and satisfaction with WIC services; and family utilization of child care and other sources of support. FNS approved plans to continue following up with study participants through age 9 to assess how the duration of WIC participation impacts children after they age out of the program.
  • USDA provides Value Enhanced Nutrition Assessment (VENA) training videos and discussion guides, as part of the participant-centered, health outcome-based approach to the WIC, nutrition assessment. The VENA is a required and essential part of WIC used to determine eligibility through identifying nutrition risks and to personalize WIC nutrition services. It is the starting point for designing all WIC nutrition services.

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