This State Is the First to Offer Free Breakfast and Lunch to All K-12 Students

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KEY POINTS

  • School meal programs typically have income eligibility requirements.
  • California is the first state to offer free breakfast and lunch to all K-12 students.


K-12 students in California can now get two free meals each school day.

Children and adolescents need regular, healthy meals to develop mentally and physically. Unfortunately, financial hardships keep many children from getting enough food, putting their health, development, and learning at risk. However, one U.S. state is making a change that will ensure that all K-12 students in the state get two meals a day at no extra cost.

Many American families struggle to put food on the table. While free meal programs exist, these programs typically have strict income eligibility requirements that must be met.

To qualify for the National Free Lunch Program and other similar free meal programs, a household of four would have to make less than $36,075 annually.

With that in mind, a family can be struggling financially but not qualify for free lunch -- even though they need extra support.

California has made a change that will make a big difference. This year, students throughout the state can get two free meals while at school -- and there are no income requirements.

Introducing the California Universal Meals Program

California is the first U.S. state to implement a statewide Universal Meals Program. This became possible through the Free Schools Meals for All Act of 2021.

  • Through this legislation, $650 million will be budgeted each year to provide meals for students in the state.
  • In 2021, $450 million in one-time funding was also made available to improve kitchen infrastructure and equipment.

What does this mean for students in the state?

Beginning during the 2022-2023 school year, all public schools, county offices of education, and charter schools serving students in grades K through 12 must provide two meals free of charge each school day.

Statewide, students can request breakfast and lunch for free, regardless of their free or reduced-price meal eligibility.

California families struggle to put food on the table

Many Californians struggle with food insecurity. According to Feeding America, 1 in 11 Californians faces hunger. Even worse, 1 in 8 children in California faces hunger.

The California Universal Meal Program will likely make a significant difference, allowing more children to get the food they need to be healthy. Additionally, families will have less financial stress knowing that their children won't go hungry during the school year.

Hopefully, other states will follow California's lead and introduce universal free meal programs, so fewer children go without proper nutrition.

What to do if you're struggling to put food on the table

You're not alone if you're struggling to put food on the table. There are resources for you if you need extra help.

If you have school-age children, check to see if your family qualifies for free school meal programs. If you don't qualify for free meals at school, you may be eligible for reduced-price meals. This could help you keep more money in your bank account to use for other bills.

If school meal programs aren't an option, there may be organizations in your area that provide after-school meals. Food banks are another resource to consider if you need assistance providing food at home.

For money-saving tips, check out our personal finance resources.

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