By: Linda Wang
Los Gatos High School now offers free breakfast and lunch to all students. These free meals are part of the Universal Meals program, the first such program implemented in the U.S. “Getting school lunch is incredibly convenient. The lunches are easy to pick up, and the cafeteria staff are always understanding and happy to help,” explains junior Charlie Zhou. “There are multiple lunch lines scattered around the cafeteria. You pick up your lunch and then just wav[e] the barcode on your student ID over the scanner.” Assistant Principal Kristi Grasty adds, “It’s a wonderful concept to provide good nutrition universally to all students.”
Now, students can flourish under the new Universal Meals program, which is thanks to California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 130. More than a year after the bill’s approval in July of 2021, AB 130 includes three pillars to ensure its success.
Pillar one is the free breakfast and lunch for students in public schools grades K-12 “regardless of their free or reduced-price meal eligibility.” The bill grants this privilege to all educational agencies that participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP), both of which increase standards for food safety and health. “The quality is still good,” assures Pam Carlino, head chef. “Making [the food] from scratch is actually a lot healthier… most [schools make] their stuff frozen, and it has high amounts of salt and preservatives. [Now] we don’t have any of that in our school district.”
Pillar two requires that schools in which 40 percent or more students qualify for reduced-price meals participate in the Universal Meals program. Pillar three promises that as long as schools serve meals approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Newsom will reimburse schools with money lost from lunch sales.
The free meals program was enacted in a response to California’s 6.2 million students who qualify for free or reduced price meals. Because schools were unable to provide meals during the pandemic, up to 20 percent of all California households struggled with food insecurity. Another factor in creating the Universal Meals program was embarrassment about reduced price meals and students’ socioeconomic statuses. By providing free meals to all students, California not only alleviates the hunger crisis, but also erases family debt from school meals, as well as the stigma that students have about them.
“It takes a village to make an operation like the cafeteria run, and we’re grateful for every human being in this place that helps,” Grasty concluded. Indeed, the Universal Meals program is a progressive step for the state of California and an inspiring addition to Los Gatos High School.
Categories: School News