Minnesota says yes to universal free meals

Students with lunch trays
Photo: Shutterstock

It’s been a busy couple of days at the state level, with another governor signing a universal free meals bill into law. Meanwhile, a new federal bill would further impact schools’ milk offerings. 

Here’s the latest in school nutrition legislation. 

Minnesota embraces universal free meals

Minnesota will become the fourth state to offer universal free meals to students on a permanent basis. Governor Tim Walz has signed HF 5 into law, offering free school breakfast and lunch daily to all students starting next school year. The meals will be provided using state funding. 

“As a former teacher, I know that providing free breakfast and lunch for our students is one of the best investments we can make to lower costs, support Minnesota’s working families, and care for our young learners and the future of our state,” Gov. Walz said in a statement. “This bill puts us one step closer to making Minnesota the best state for kids to grow up, and I am grateful to all of the legislators and advocates for making it happen.”

The state joins California, Maine and Colorado in offering universal free meals. New Mexico is also close to implementing free meals for all students: Lawmakers there passed a universal free meals bill earlier this month, and it awaits Gov. Michelle Grisham’s signature. 

Pennsylvania poised to continue free breakfast program 

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro is looking to extend the state’s universal free breakfast program and also bring free lunch to more students. 

Shapiro included $38.5 million in his state budget proposal to continue providing universal free breakfast through the 2023-24 school year. The funds would also cover lunch for students who qualify for reduced-price meals. 

The state’s universal free breakfast program has served over 23 million breakfasts to students  since its implementation last fall, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Education. The department also says that school breakfast participation has increased since the start of the program. 

Connecticut bill introduces a flurry of changes

A new bill introduced in Connecticut would make several changes to the state’s school nutrition programs. 

If passed, HB 6880 would allow whole milk to be served in schools, require boards of education to post the nutritional value of school meals and extend the amount of time students have for lunch from 20 to 30 minutes. 

Giving students more time for meals has become a topic of conversation among school nutrition operators, some of whom argue that the U.S. Department of Education should have included requirements for seated lunch time in its proposed changes to the School Nutrition Standards. 

New Mexico’s recently passed universal free meals bill also includes a provision that would require schools to give students at least 20 minutes of seated lunch time. 

Federal bill puts support behind soy milk

Representatives Troy A. Carter, Sr. (D-La.) and Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) have introduced bipartisan legislation that would allow soy milk to be served to students as a milk alternative. 

The Addressing Digestive Distress in Stomachs of Our Youth (ADD SOY) Act would require schools to serve soy milk if requested by a student, parent or guardian. 

In a press release, Carter argues that serving only traditional cow’s milk is unfair to minority students, as they are more likely to be lactose intolerant. The release also references a 2019 U.S. Department of Agriculture report that found that the value of unopened, discarded milk was $300 million annually. 

“It is abundantly clear that the current milk substitute system that USDA employs is delivering detrimental impacts on BIPOC school children,” said Rep. Carter in the statement. “Too many children who cannot safely or comfortably consume dairy are being forced to accept containers of cow’s milk on their lunch trays. My ADD SOY Act ensures the health and nutritional needs of all our nation’s students are met. America needs to embrace its diversity at the lunch counter.”

Carter was also part of a group of over 30 lawmakers who penned a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last year asking him to allow schools to offer soy milk. 

The ADD SOY Act is the latest bill to be introduced that would impact milk offerings in schools. Last month, Reps. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.) and Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) introduced a federal bill that would allow schools participating in the National School Lunch Program to serve whole milk.



More from our partners