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Universal Meals

The Universal Meals Initiative showcases the importance of students obtaining meals in order to reach their full academic potential.

Transforming California Schools Logo - Universal Meals

California was the first state in the nation to adopt a statewide Universal Meals Program law for all school children, thus elevating school meals as an integral part of a quality education system.

Beginning in School Year (SY) 2022–23, the California Universal School Meal Program will provide the opportunity for all students to reach their full academic potential by fueling their brains and nurturing their social-emotional needs for optimal learning. The California Universal Meals Program is designed to build on the foundations of the federal National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) and to supplement, not replace, federal requirements.

Key components include:

  • Expanding the existing California State Meal Mandate defined in Education Code (EC), Section 49501.5 to include both a nutritiously adequate breakfast and lunch at no charge for all children each school day regardless of individual eligibility.
  • Continuing to comply with all federal requirements for the NSLP and SBP including, but not limited to, collection of meal applications in nonprovision sites.
  • Requiring high-poverty schools to participate in a federal provision such as Community Eligibility or Provision 2.
  • Providing the state meal reimbursement for the California Universal Meal Program to schools that are approved sponsors of both the NSLP and SBP. The state will provide supplemental reimbursement through Proposition 98 funding to cover the difference between the federal free meal reimbursement rate and the reduced-price and paid reimbursement rates.

Budget Information on Universal Meals

Appropriation of universal meals will be established in the 2022 Budget Act.

In total, the 2022–23 state budget includes $596 million in the Proposition 98 General Fund to fund universal access to subsidized school meals. Further, the budget includes an additional $611.8 million ongoing Proposition 98 General Fund to augment the state's meal reimbursement rate sufficient to maintain meal reimbursement rates beginning in 2022–23. The budget also funds an additional $600 million in the Kitchen Infrastructure Grant Program and $100 million for local educational agencies (LEAs) to implement best practices, including serving California-grown food.

In the 2021 budget, an additional $54 million in Proposition 98 funds was included for the current state meal mandate requirement to address the federal child nutrition program flexibilities during the pandemic. This allowed LEAs to provide meals at no charge to all students, regardless of their eligibility, for the entire 2021–22 school year. The additional $54 million in state meal reimbursement covers the increase in meals served to paid students this year that is not normally part of the state meal mandate for needy students.

The 2021 budget also included $150 million in one-time funding to support kitchen infrastructure and nutrition staff training to help with implementation of the California Universal Meals Program.

More information can be found on the following California Department of Education (CDE) web pages:

To contact the Universal Meals program, email UniversalMealsSY22@cde.ca.gov.

Universal Meals is one key part of State Superintendent Tony Thurmond’s Transforming School Initiatives.

Questions:   Executive Office | 916-319-0800
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, August 3, 2022
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