California can lead the nation by funding changes to school food program

Guest Commentary
June 15, 2022

By Our schools play a crucial role in influencing our children’s health and learning. School cafeterias, which feed our students breakfast and lunch, are essential players in fighting child hunger and in the education of our nation’s future leaders.

We’ve long championed farm-to-school programs because we believe healthy, freshly prepared meals using local ingredients are key to providing children with the best start in life.

School Meals For All, which Gov. Gavin Newsom championed in the budget since its inception, in concert with state Sen. Nancy Skinner’s legislative proposal, is the largest free-meals program in the country, providing breakfast and lunch for 5.9 million students — many of whom depend on school food for the bulk of their nutrition, regardless of income.

This year, the governor and the Legislature have the opportunity to partner again and make further improvements to our school food system, with the goal of making it the best in the nation. With rising food prices, ongoing supply chain disruptions, and federal waivers that provide schools with increased meal reimbursements and flexibility set to expire on June 30, multiyear investments in our school food system are essential.

Several years ago, with improving our school food system in mind, we embarked on a mission to reimagine how all students, regardless of their economic status, could have school meals that are freshly prepared using nutritious, California-grown ingredients. We visited schools throughout the state and listened to students, cafeteria teams and farmers, who shared their challenges as well as their ideas for improvements. Additionally, we brought together the School Meals For All coalition — more than 200 organizations representing labor, health care, business, climate, education, agriculture, and food banks that recognized the co-benefits of healthy school meals across their sectors.

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