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Healthy Meals for Kids: A New Framework for School Meals in California

We’re starting off the new year by celebrating a historic win in California that’s establishing a new model for children’s nutrition across the nation. 

Senate Bill 348, otherwise known as Healthy Meals for Kids, proposed by California Senator Nancy Skinner, was signed into law at the end of 2023 and started taking effect this month. This inspiring legislation builds on the success of California’s universal school meals for all K-12 students, which has galvanized other states, as well as the USDA, to increase school food funding, support, and training. 

As Jessica Bartholow, Chief of Staff for Senator Skinner, elaborated on a call with Eat Real supporters in November, it was important to make free school meals universal but also ensure that those meals are nutritious and delicious. SB 348 codifies the federal dietary guidelines that increase whole grains and reduce sugars, salt, and fat — all standards that Eat Real certification standards meet and exceed. SB 348 also reduces mealtime stress, and can reduce food waste, by ensuring enough time for students to eat and enjoy what’s on their plates. This is a win for children’s health, and the planet’s health, too. SB 348 should continue to increase meal participation rates while reducing administrative burden for food service directors and the stigma of free or reduced-price meals for students. Eat Real is thrilled for this major development in nutrition security and proud to have supported and built momentum for the bill.

“While the senator was drafting the bill, there was a beautiful, serendipitous visit to our office from Eat Real,” said Bartholow, “I thought, if there’s anybody who can inspire the senator, it’s Nora. And by the end of that visit, the senator said ‘We’re doing this!’”

SB 348 passed both the State Assembly and Senate with unanimous support, marking a significant shift for the way our nation will regard school food for generations to come. The bill took effect on the first of this year and is certain to be a game changer for nutrition security in the state, as well as a blueprint for the federal government to ensure healthy meals for all our school children across the nation.