The U.S. Department of Agriculture is extending no-cost meal flexibility through the end of the 2020-21 school year. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow free meals to be available to all children through the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced Oct. 9.

The USDA had previously extended child nutrition waivers through December, but the new flexibility announced Oct. 9 will allow school districts to leverage their Summer Food Service Program and Seamless Summer Option programs to continue providing free meals to all children through June 30, 2021, according to a news release.

“As our nation recovers and reopens, we want to ensure that children continue to receive the nutritious breakfasts and lunches they count on during the school year wherever they are, and however they are learning,” Perdue said in the release. “We are grateful for the heroic efforts by our school food service professionals who are consistently serving healthy meals to kids during these trying times, and we know they need maximum flexibility right now.”

The added flexibility further allows for meals to be served out of the normally required group settings and meal times and allows for districts to pick up meals for children, according to the release.

School Nutrition Association President Reggie Ross said in a statement that the organization welcomes the extension.

"These waiver extensions are great news for America’s students and the school nutrition professionals working so hard to support them throughout this pandemic," Ross said. “Families struggling to make ends meet can be assured that their students will have access to healthy school meals, whether they are learning at home or in school. School meal programs can remain focused on safely meeting nutritional needs of children in their communities without having to worry about burdensome regulations.”