When California passed the landmark School Meals for All legislation in 2021, we became the first state in the nation to provide free breakfast and lunch for all K-12 students regardless of income. Since then, 26 states have introduced similar legislation in response to the end of federal pandemic emergency food assistance, rising inflation, and what has been called a “hunger cliff” for many kids. As school lunch debt is soaring across the nation, California has become a model for ensuring schools can provide nutritious breakfast and lunch for all students without accruing district debt and stigmatizing students whose families can’t afford to pay.
After the legislation passed, school districts throughout the state, including the Upland Unified School District, where I am the nutrition director, took stock of what we could do with the resources we had to feed all kids who wanted free breakfast and lunch every day. My district received a California Department of Food and Agriculture Farm-to-School grant to build a garden at every school and to develop more relationships with local farmers and bakeries to source locally grown and produced ingredients and foods.