MN Implements 'No-Cost Meals' for All Students
Wednesday, August 30, 2023
With back-to-school season here, Minnesota is implementing no-cost meals for all students, regardless of family income.
As districts prepare, some reminders are being floated to parents. The state Legislature approved "universal meals" for schools this past session.
Leah Gardner, policy director for Hunger Solutions Minnesota, said parents no longer face the burden of having to fill out paperwork to ensure their child has access to these meals, or worry about whether they are eligible.
She noted families still might be asked to voluntarily complete applications, because of the broader benefits connected to tracking participants.
"That is often tied to a school's funding and a family being able to get other forms of relief from paying fees, and various things like that. It's still important for a variety of reasons," Gardner explained. "But thankfully, it's not the 'be all, end all' to whether a child's going to eat that day."
The Minnesota Department of Education said all public school districts will be participating in no-cost meals, covering 880,000 students. It is unclear how many private schools will take part, but Gardner has observed some of them making the transition, because of the benefits to both students and a school's operations. After-school snack programs are not part of the initiative.
As more families face pressure from their grocery budgets, Gardner encouraged households, especially those who have never used the program before, to keep an open mind about taking advantage of these meals.
"They might be surprised about how much a district is doing around, you know, allergy considerations, making sure that meals are healthy, fresh, culturally appropriate, you name it," Gardner outlined.
She added those approaches might help a student discover foods they've never tried before. The meals are still connected to the National School Lunch Program, so they must meet a nutritional standard.
Minnesota is now among eight states to have taken steps to expand no-cost breakfasts and lunches to all students.
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