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California becomes first in the nation to launch universal free meal program

school lunch salads.JPG
Posted at 6:19 PM, Aug 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-16 22:27:10-04

No questions asked, no strings attached. That is the motto as California leads the charge into a whole new world of free school lunches.

Ahead of the 2022 school year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that establishes a first-of-its-kind K-12 free meal program. What used to be income-based for eligibility has now become a universal program regardless of household earnings.

San Luis Coastal Unified School District is calling Values Aligned Universal Free Meals the wave of the future because it's not just about the cost-less cuisine, it's about what’s in that food that aligns with nutritional values. This bill allowed them to create a program that was founded upon healthy options for students.

"We found out that free food plus good food equals an increase in meal participants which allows more funding to purchase extraordinary ingredients and pay our people fair, livable wages," said Erin Primer, San Luis Coastal Unified Director of Food and Nutrition.

The initiative is mainly funded by federal and state dollars.

That money is an investment in more ways than one, school officials say. The payoff reaches students, employees and the economy as they source locally and can now employ more people to feed more kids.

Maybe one of the biggest impacts, though, is the relief it brings to parents.

"At a time when supply chains are difficult and it costs more at the grocery store, the impact this has on families' pocketbooks is exceptional," Primer said.

In the same way they get a notebook, a pencil and, nowadays, a Chromebook, kids are going to get fed at school.

Members of the school district's culinary team are really excited about their new ability to join the teaching side of school by introducing kids to foods they may never have tried. The star of their menu so far is daal, a meal inspired by a book donated by the San Luis Obispo Library, Joining nutrition and education hand-in-hand.