Free lunches for all

California’s new program is considered the largest free student lunch program in the country

Julianne Koch, Senior Staff Writer

A program for free lunches in all California public schools is now underway. In July 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom allowed the use of funds from a budget surplus to pay for the Universal School Meals program, a program providing permanent free breakfast and lunch to all 6 million public school students. 

The United States Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of national nutrition programs, agreed to pay for free breakfast and lunch only during the 2021-2022 school year. Starting next school year, and going forward, the California government will cover all fees. This is available to every student, regardless of family income. 

Students can sign up for an account at in order to ensure that a meal is prepared and ready for them. Meals can be ordered for the month or weekly before the deadline. Upon arrival at the cafeteria, students must wait in the lunch line and present their student ID card. 

“To ensure that our cafeteria prepares enough food for every child who needs one, we ask that students [or their parents] order for each day that meals are desired,” Oak Park High School kitchen manager Dana Call said.

Since free lunches are available for any student regardless of family income, many students at OPHS have opted into the program to save time preparing meals at home.

“I wanted to see what they would serve because I usually do not have any time in the morning to pack my own lunch, as I am rushing,” sophomore Victoria Yep said.  

Since many students are signing up for the program, long lines are inevitable. Yep claims that she does not always like waiting in the long line, but understands the situation. Regardless, OPHS staff are trying to provide lunches for all in an efficient manner. 

“It is much busier in the cafeteria. It is not more difficult, but just takes more time to serve 400 plus students at nutrition and lunch,” Call said. 

When the pandemic started, many families across the world were put in difficult financial situations due to significant job loss. This program aims to aid families who are struggling or still recovering from the pandemic.

The Universal School Meals program will continue to move forward in the near future. The objective is to provide sustainable free lunches for public school students across the U.S. California is one of the first states to take a step towards this goal. 

“I like how [OPHS] makes everything in the cafeteria and works on sustainability, whereas other places give a lot of packaging which goes into our landfills,” Yep said.