It’s been an active week at the state level when it comes to school nutrition legislation.
Lunch periods could be extended in Maine under a new bill, and recent legislation in Nevada would require schools to provide breakfast and lunch to students attending summer school. Meanwhile, universal free meals are one step closer to becoming a reality in Montana and Vermont.
Here’s the latest.
Maine lawmaker wants students to have more time for lunch
Students in Maine would get at least 30 minutes to eat lunch under a new bill introduced by House Representative Jan Dodge.
Along with longer lunch times, HP 638 would also require schools to implement share tables, where students can leave leftover food for others to take, when possible.
Dodge believes the bill would help alleviate hunger in schools and reduce food waste.
"When children do not have enough time to eat, they often leave food behind on the tray," said Dodge in a statement. "This creates two problems: hungry students and more food waste. By creating a standard lunch length, we can ensure our students have enough time to get to the cafeteria, make it through the line and sit down to eat before the period ends and they are shuttled off to their next period. Giving students more time to finish their meal has the added benefit of less food being tossed out.”
The bill does include an opt-out clause if schools aren’t able to accommodate longer lunch periods due to logistics. School boards would be required to hold a public hearing on implementing 30-minute lunches, but if doing so was deemed impracticable, they would not have to enact them.
Twenty percent of elementary and high schools, and 36% of middle schools in the state have lunch periods that are 15 to 20 minutes long, a 2021 survey by the Maine Department of Education found.
Maine is not the only state taking a harder look at lunch period length. A bill introduced in Connecticut earlier this month would require that students have 30 minutes for lunch, while New Mexico’s recently passed universal free meals bill mandates that students have at least 20 minutes to sit and eat.
Nevada considers serving summer school breakfast and lunch
A bill introduced in Nevada would require schools to offer breakfast and lunch to students attending summer school.
Although school is not technically in session, many children throughout the country still receive meals during summer through nutrition programs put on by districts and local organizations. A report by the Food Action and Research Center found that just under 5.6 million kids participated in summer meals during an average weekday in July 2021.
Nevada is also one of a handful of states that decided to extend universal free meals during the school year after the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s pandemic-era waivers that allowed free meals for all students expired last summer. Students in the state will continue to receive free meals through next school year.
Universal free meals legislation takes a step forward in Montana and Vermont
Montana is the latest state to introduce universal free meals legislation.
HB 863 would provide free breakfast and lunch to all students in the state. The bill would appropriate $22 million from the state’s general fund each fiscal year to cover the meals. If passed, it would go into effect this July.
Meanwhile, Vermont’s universal free meals legislation has advanced out of the House and is on its way to the Senate.
If passed, students in the state would receive free breakfast and lunch daily. The meals would be covered using state education funds.
Vermont schools currently provide free meals to all students thanks to a temporary universal free meals bill signed into law last year. The free meals are set to expire at the end of this school year.
See which states currently offer, or are considering, universal free meals via the map below: