Our mission is to redesign our food system into one that benefits human and planet health. Designing an equitable, sustainable, and nutritionally beneficial food system is no small undertaking and requires individuals, organizations, and government to come together and align on a common goal. Eat REAL is proud to be a member of the School Meals for All coalition supporting SB 364, calling for universal free school meals for all of California.
According to the proposed bill, “This bill would enact the Free School Meals For All Act of 2021. The bill would express the finding and declaration of the Legislature that no child in California should experience hunger and that every public school pupil should benefit from access to a healthy, locally procured and freshly prepared meal during the school day.”
The proposed bill argues that the current (pre-pandemic) Free and Reduced Lunch program doesn’t reach enough students as the signup process, paperwork, and lengthy verification process can create too many barriers.
During the pandemic, when the USDA issued waivers to allow schools to serve any child under 18, the model worked. The programs were cost-effective and able to reach more students without compromising the quality or nutrition of the food being served. In fact, some districts were able to better focus on providing more real food and shifting towards more scratch cooking.
Children who have a reliable source of nutritious real food are more likely to perform better in school, score higher on tests, and are less likely to have disciplinary problems in the classroom. By providing children with reliable, stable access to nutritious meals at school, we are setting them up for success now and in the future.
“Our food system is failing our children,” says Eat REAL Chief Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene, “and one of the best ways to support the next generation is to ensure all children have healthy meals at school across California.”
School districts across the country have gone above and beyond to provide healthy school meals to their students during the pandemic. Unfortunately, budget restraints are foodservice directors’ most significant obstacle. It’s time for the government to step up and provide schools with increased funding to expand meal programs and deliver the most nutritious options to their students. All children – especially those in BIPOC communities – deserve equal access to healthful food for an equal opportunity to learn, thrive, and succeed.