By Amy Myrdal Miller

Beginning in School Year (SY) 202223, California will become the first state to implement a statewide Universal Meals Program for school children. Every student in preK through grade 12 will be eligible to receive a free breakfast and lunch every school day, eliminating the free meal stigma for needy students and improving all students food and nutrition security.

On Thursday, June 30, Governor Newsom signed AB 181, the Education Omnibus Budget Trailer Bill, which appropriates $700 million to support school nutrition programs across the state. Specifically, this funding:

  • Provides kitchen infrastructure grants to schools for equipment such as milk coolers, chillers, and bulk dispensers
  • Provides training grants to support school nutrition staff in preparing, marketing, and offering more freshly prepared school meals, meals that may include more dairy ingredients
  • Focuses on procuring more Californiagrown foods and ingredients for school nutrition programs
  • Requires the State Department of Education to work with CDFA to identify ways by which funding for freshly prepared reimbursable school meals may complement programs supported by California Farm to School Incubator Grants
  • Requires all plantbased alternatives to milk, beef, or other animal products meet National School Meal Nutrition Standards. This means the only alternative to milk that qualifies for a federal school meal reimbursement is soymilk.

In addition to the budget trailer bill, California has also appropriated funding for supplemental state school meals reimbursements for school meals. This additional funding allows schools to further improve the quality of foods and beverages they serve students.

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