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State Meal Program

Information about meal requirements and reimbursement for schools that do not offer the federal lunch or breakfast programs.

Program Information

What is the State Meal Program?

The State Meal Program is a child nutrition program funded by the State of California. The program provides money to public school districts and county superintendents of schools that serve free or reduced-price nutritious meals to needy children in compliance with state law. The Program is administered by the California Department of Education (CDE), Nutrition Services Division.

Why is there a State Meal Program?

California Education Code Section 49550 (which resulted from the enactment of Senate Bill 120, Chapter 1277/1975, Child Nutrition Facilities Act of 1975) requires all public school districts and county superintendents of schools to make available, free or reduced-price, one nutritionally adequate meal to each needy student every school day. A needy student is one who qualifies for free or reduced-price meals, according to specified family size and income standards. This requirement is commonly referred to as the "state meal mandate."

Senate Bill 120 also established the State Meal Program to provide schools with financial support to help defray the cost of providing these meals. It should be noted that, although all public schools are required to comply with the state meal mandate, receipt of state funding is optional.

What is a nutritionally adequate meal?

A nutritionally adequate meal is one that qualifies for reimbursement under federal child nutrition program regulations. Please see our School Menu Planning Options page for meal pattern information.

What are school districts and county superintendents of schools required to do?

Free or reduced-price nutritionally adequate meals must be made available to those children who qualify for such benefits. These meals must be made available in such a way that it is not readily apparent that children are receiving free or reduced-price meals. Records must be kept to document that nutritionally adequate meals are made available to the needy students. These records include:

  • Applications submitted by families for free and reduced price meals, by school.
  • The number of meals served each day, by school and by category (free and reduced-price).
  • Meal production records and inventory records that document the amounts and types of food used.
  • Records of income, expenditures, and contributions received.

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How can school districts and county superintendents of schools get paid for providing nutritionally adequate meals?

As previously stated, all school districts and county superintendents of schools must comply with the state meal mandate. Reimbursement for providing nutritionally adequate meals may be obtained through either the National School Lunch Program or the State Meal Program. Participation in either program is optional.

In order to be reimbursed under the National School Lunch Program, a school must make nutritionally adequate meals available to all students (not just to needy students).

Schools choosing to make nutritionally adequate meals available only to needy students may participate in and be reimbursed under the State Meal Program. (Please note that reimbursement is substantially higher under the National School Lunch Program.) Please see our Rates, Eligibility Scales, and Funding page for the current rates.

At the end of the school year, school districts and county superintendents of schools that participate in the State Meal Program submit a reimbursement claim form, available on the CDE fiscal Nutrition Services-School Nutrition Program Web page, to the CDE. After the Department reviews the form, the claim is sent to the State Controller's Office, where the check is issued. Agencies typically receive reimbursement within four to six weeks after submitting the reimbursement claim form.

What type of assistance is available?

Nutritionists and program staff from the CDE are available to provide technical assistance and guidance on how to comply with the state meal mandate and how to obtain reimbursement through the State Meal Program. Assistance is available on such topics as menu planning, proper food storage and preparation, record keeping and reporting, and clarifying federal and state regulations.

Whom do we contact?

If you have any questions regarding this subject, please contact your School Nutrition Programs (SNP) County Specialist. The SNP County Specialist list is available in the Download Forms section of the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System, Form ID Caseload. You can also contact the SNP Office Technician (OT), by phone at 916-322-1450 to be directed to your SNP County Specialist.

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Questions:   School Nutrition Programs Unit | 800-952-5609
Last Reviewed: Friday, April 2, 2021
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