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School Meals for All

California has made history becoming the first state in the nation to transform school food by permanently providing free school meals to all K–12 public school students. 

California State Senator and Center for Ecoliteracy Board Member Nancy Skinner, who introduced this proposal, said, “Free School Meals for All is based on a simple, compelling premise: universal schools, universal meals. I am grateful for the Center for Ecoliteracy’s critical advocacy and leadership to make California the first state to enact free school meals for all students. Just like textbooks, school meals will now be a universal part of every child’s school day — reducing stigma, hunger, and barriers to nutrition.”

As co-sponsors of the Free School Meals for All Act of 2021, the Center for Ecoliteracy, along with the California Association of Food Banks, NextGen California, TomKat Ranch, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, built a broad coalition of over 200 supporting organizations. Together, the School Meals for All coalition advocated for the following policies that Governor Newsom signed into law through the 2021–22 California budget. 

Free Breakfast and Lunch for All K-12 Students, Permanently 
This landmark investment provides $650 million annually (beginning in the 2022–2023 school year) to nourish our children and support academic success. As the first state in the nation to provide free school meals to all public school students regardless of eligibility, California is paving the way for our country to make healthy school meals a part of every child’s educational day.

The School Meals for All policy is especially important for those who fall through the cracks in the existing system: eligible families concerned that submitting required paperwork could affect their immigration status, families of four who make more than $48,470 per year and still go hungry because of the high cost of living in California, and eligible students who don’t participate because of the stigma that can be associated with free school meals. School Meals for All will reduce barriers to accessing school meals and will help ensure all students are ready to learn.

Largest Farm to School Grant Program in the Nation
$30 million for Farm to School in both the 2021 and 2022 state budgets passed in September 2021, creating the largest Farm to School grant program in the country. This investment speaks to the initial success of California’s Farm to School Incubator Grant Program, which began with $8.5 million in 2020. In addition to supporting sustainable food procurement, this funding will support projects that provide nutrition education, experiential lessons on the food system, and exposure to local agriculture and seasonal foods.

Funding to Increase Freshly Prepared Meals
$150 million in one-time funding for training and equipment to serve freshly prepared meals at school was also included in the state budget. School kitchens are historically underfunded and often not equipped to prepare fresh food. This funding will provide the proper equipment and necessary training for school nutrition professionals to serve more freshly prepared and locally-grown food.

Schools play a critical role in children’s health and we are proud to be part of California’s leadership in elevating the importance of school meals. Through our California Food for California Kids® initiative, we advance policy solutions that transform school food systems and how students learn about the food they eat. Looking forward, we are committed to supporting the successful implementation of School Meals for All, Farm to School programs, and training and equipment to serve freshly prepared meals. Combined, these investments amplify the impact of universal school meals.