Document Type

Capstone Experience

Graduation Date


Degree Name

Master of Public Health


Health Promotion

First Committee Member

Marisa Rosen

Second Committee Member

David Dzewaltowski

Third Committee Member

Courtney Parks


Many low-income families are facing nutrition insecurity, meaning they do not have consistent and equitable access to healthy, safe, affordable foods to meet needs for optimal health and well-being. The impact of nutrition insecurity is especially concerning for children as they are more likely to face adverse outcomes that can limit physical, intellectual, and emotional potential across the lifespan. The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers the School Nutrition Programs that can help improve access to nutritious foods. Eligible families can apply for their children to receive free or reduced-price school meals based on income level and household size. However, many families nationwide do not apply for these benefits.

This study used a concurrent embedded mixed methods study design to explore barriers and facilitators to applying for free or reduced-price school meals. A self-administered online survey was used to elicit responses from parents and guardians of children attending Lawrence Public School elementary schools in Lawrence, Kansas.

Results indicated that most families did not apply for free or reduced-price meals because they did not believe their income would qualify. Child preference and parent perceptions were also common reasons cited for not applying. There was an association between families with low food security levels and those who applied for free or reduced-price meals, however there was still a gap in those who reported food insecurity and who had not applied.

The results indicated that there are barriers to applying for free or reduced-price meals which the school district can use to develop interventions to assist better families who would benefit from their children receiving FRPM at school. These interventions may include enhanced outreach and communication, education and involvement of students and parents, and advocacy for federal policy change.

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