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Alternative title


Date of Award

Spring 2024

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Department or Program Affiliation

Educational Leadership and Inclusive Teaching

Degree Name

Doctorate of Education


Education Leadership and Inclusive Teaching

First Advisor

Larsen, Donald

Second Advisor

Bruce, Tim (Professor)

Third Advisor

Pullen, Natalie Yvette

Fourth Advisor

Livingston, Matthew Merritt


The National School Lunch Program that began in 1946 formalized local and federal government's role in overseeing school meals. Since then, students have had access to food for sale and also, those who qualify for free and reduced lunch, at no cost. The separation of students based on their ability to pay for meals has led to stigma and, in some cases, shaming. In some cases students have gone without food to avoid stigma. While students accumulated lunch debt, adults took measures to reach families to help them qualify for free meals. When schools closed in 2020, schools changed the food service model to bring free food to where students could access it. With the return to in-person learning in the fall of 2021, most schools returned to a pay-for-service program. Some schools, and some states, found ways to continue providing free meals to all.

This study focuses on the impact of the pandemic on nutrition services. Participants in six school districts in Western Washington were interviewed. They were asked to describe their experiences and to draw comparisons between services before, during, and after the pandemic. Findings show that students experienced food insecurity and stigma prior to 2020. During the pandemic, schools had similar experiences in providing food to students and families in creative and new ways. Post-pandemic, schools and districts that provide universal access to nutrition can relax and focus on feeding all students. The results are clear. We can, and should, feed all students regardless of their ability to pay.




Nutrition services, school lunch, universal access, free meals, student meals


Western Washington University

OCLC Number


Subject – LCSH

National school lunch program; School children--Food; Children--Nutrition; Food relief--Washington (State); COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020-

Geographic Coverage

Washington (State)




doctoral dissertations




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