California bill that would ban certain additives in school meals takes another step to becoming law

Also in this week’s legislative update: New data from Massachusetts analyzes the impact of the state’s universal free school meals program.
Lunch trays in cafeteria
The bill would would ban six food dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2 and Green 3) in school meals. | Photo: Shutterstock

A California bill that seeks to ban certain food dyes in school meals has just passed another hurdle to becoming law. Meanwhile in Massachusetts, the state recently released data showing the impact the state’s universal free meals program has had on school meal participation.

Here’s the latest in school nutrition legislation.

California bill banning certain dyes in school meals advances out of committee

A bill in California that would ban the use of certain dyes in school meals has advanced out of the Senate Education Committee.

If passed, A.B. 2316 would ban six food dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Blue 1, Blue 2 and Green 3) in school meals. Food items sold at school as part of a fundraising event would be omitted from the law.

Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, who sponsored the bill, references a 2021 report by the California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) as the reason for introducing the legislation. The report found that consuming synthetic dyes can cause neurobehavior problems in some children.

The bill has been referred to the Committee on Appropriations.  

Massachusetts’ universal free school meals program drives participation

Massachusetts students ate a record number of school meals during the first year of the state’s universal free school meals program.

According to data released by the Healey-Driscoll Administration, which compared the 2022-23 school year(the first year the state offered universal free school meals) to the 2018-19 school year, 12.2 million more lunches and 9 million more breakfasts were served. The 2022-23 school year also saw 61,500 more students eating lunch every school day and 43,400 more students eating breakfast every school day compared to the 2018-19 school year.

“Almost 7 out of 10 Massachusetts students are eating school lunch, which means over half a million students are getting nutritious meals,” said Massachusetts Governor Maura Healey in a statement.“We were proud to make universal free school meals permanent with the Legislature, and the combination of state and federal funding means that breakfasts and lunches are available to all students to help them stay healthy and succeed in school.” 

The state’s findings mirror those found in a study released earlier this year by the School Nutrition Association which showed that school nutrition operators who offered free meals to all students experienced increased meal participation.

Massachusetts was one of a handful of states that has decided to continue offering universal free meals to students after the expiration of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nutrition waivers which allowed schools across the country to feed all kids for free during the height of the pandemic.

See which states currently offer universal free meals via the map below:



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