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Success with School Meals for All

student with lunch tray

Success with School Meals for All

School Meals for All, or universal school meals, means that every K-12 student in California’s public schools will be offered free breakfast and lunch at school, permanently. On this page, we’re sharing the most important things to know about this new policy and how you can support your students, school nutrition department, and school district:


What Does School Meals for All Require? 

Two free meals for every student. Starting June 30, 2022, every public school district, charter school, and county office of education will be required to provide all K–12 students with access to free breakfast and lunch.


What are the Key Benefits of School Meals for All? 

  1. Improved nutrition: school meals are the healthiest source of food for Americans 
  2. Better academic performance: healthy school meals prepare students to learn 
  3. Reduced absenteeism: providing school meals reduces absenteeism and tardiness 


How Does the Funding Work?

For each breakfast and lunch served, the state will make up the difference so that all meals are reimbursed at the free rate. This covers what students were previously charged. No separate application is required to receive state universal meal funds, but schools must participate in the federally funded National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP).  

The table below shows an example from CDE based on the 2021–2022 NSLP reimbursement for an agency also eligible for $0.07 menu certification. In addition, schools may receive commodity value of $0.3975 for each meal served.

Student Meal Eligibility Federal Funds State (Prop 98 Funds) State Universal Meal Funds
Free $3.75 $0.2487 $0
Reduced-Price $3.35 $0.2487 $0.3617
Paid $0.44 $0 $3.5587


How Can Our District Maximize Federal Funding?

To get the most out of federal funding and reduce the administrative burden for schools, the new legislation requires that schools that qualify for the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) participate in one of the federal provisions. To qualify for CEP, the identified student percentage (ISP) must be 40% or greater at a single school or a group of schools. The ISP is composed of students who are directly certified on the basis of receiving CalFresh (SNAP), CalWORKS, or Medi-Cal free benefits, or are certified homeless, migrant, runaway, or foster. For instructions on how to calculate ISP and a complete list of qualified programs and statuses, see “Identified Student Percentage”. MealsCount, a free tool developed by nonprofits, can help you optimize CEP groupings in your district. 


What if Some Schools in Our District Don't Qualify for CEP?

Provision 2 is an option for reducing the administrative burden on your district by allowing meal applications to be collected once every four years. Any school can apply for Provision 2 regardless of the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals. 


What Happens to Meal Application Forms?

Continuing to collect household income information is required to maximize federal reimbursements and secure Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) entitlements for your school district. Here’s how to collect that information from households whose students are not otherwise directly certified: 


How Can Our District Encourage Households to Fill Out Income Forms? 

Here are a few best practices from school districts across the state: 

  1. Easy access. Make them available to fill out online, and if possible, include a mobile-friendly version.
  2. School registration. Include them in the annual school registration packet. 
  3. Direct outreach. Work with principals, school secretaries, and others to do direct outreach to households. 
  4. Tie to funding. Tell families that these forms are important to secure funding for their child’s classroom, including teacher salaries and school supplies. 
  5. Additional benefits. Communicate the additional benefits available for families that qualify for free or reduced-price meals (e.g., discounted utilities like internet services, SAT fee waivers, after-school programs, and more). 
  6. Who qualifies? Communicate that benefits are available regardless of citizenship status, their information will not be shared, and school meal benefits are not subject to the “public charge” rule.


Are There Other Ways Our District Can Support the Success of School Meals for All? 

School district administrators, principals, and teachers play an important role in supporting School Meals for All. Here are a few ways you can help: 

  1. Join students for a meal. It sounds simple, but participating in the meal program can help to reduce the stigma around school meals, which has historically prevented many students from participating and accessing healthy school meals.
  2. Encourage educators to incorporate nutrition education. Share lessons with classroom teachers, after-school educators, and garden instructors about food and health, providing students with opportunities to learn about where their food comes from and how it gets to the table. 
  3. Tap into state and federal funding for school nutrition. Improved kitchen facilities and training for staff can help take your school nutrition program to the next level with more scratch cooking. Seek out opportunities to harness extra funding for your nutrition program, such as the $150 million in the 2021 state budget for training and equipment. 
  4. Apply to the Farm to School Grant Program. With $30 million allocated in the 2021 and 2022 budgets, California has the largest farm to school grant program in the country. Sign up for the California Department of Food and Agriculture newsletter or check their website in spring 2022 for the application.
  5. Invite California policymakers to join your students for a meal. Help celebrate the success of School Meals for All by inviting your representatives to experience a meal at your school. 
  6. Join the California Food for California Kids® Network. This free program supports school districts in building capacity to provide all students with fresh, locally grown school meals and create connections between the cafeteria, classroom, and garden. Join the Network today.


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