Some say there's no such thing as a free lunch, but for kids in California public schools this is soon to be untrue—free lunch will soon be available to all students. In a huge step towards fighting food insecurity and child hunger, California is set to become the first state to offer free, nutritious school meals to all children regardless of income. This development comes at the perfect time as rising food prices and inflation have put economic pressure on families.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 130 in July which instituted the Universal Meals program. However, one school district was already pioneering the plan. The Merced Union High School District (MUHSD) had begun offering free breakfast and lunch to all students due to high need. The program proved successful and will now be expanded statewide. Students were able to focus on their classes without worrying about hunger pains. Across California, one in five public children suffer from food insecurity. A large-scale problem requires a large-scale solution.
The program is funded at both the state and federal level. Some people might ask why meals should be free for all children, but the research in this area strongly backs this universality. School-wide programs have been shown to boost math performance and reduce suspensions. They can have positive effects on student BMIs and mental health, while reducing food insecurity, poverty stigma, and lunch debt. Surely many parents too would appreciate not having to pack a lunch or pay for their school meals.
This fall, all public school children in California will have access to free breakfast and lunch through thier schools. For some kids, these may be thier only dependable meals. Yohan Zuzlewski, a student at MUHSD, previously paid for lunch, but now he is able to save up rather than spend. “I remember when I was in elementary school, I had to pay for lunch and I really did not like that,” he told ABC 7 News. “It is nice to know that this benefits everyone overall.”