New study describes the benefits and challenges schools experienced during the first year of California’s Universal School Meal policy

Jun 25, 2024

California became the first state in the nation to enact a universal school meal policy in 2022. A new study published in Nutrients explores the benefits and challenges California schools experienced during the first year of implementing the new policy, sharing results from surveys completed by 430 California school foodservice professionals in March 2023. Benefits included increased meal participation and revenues, reduced meal debt and stigma, and improved meal quality and staff salaries. Schools experienced challenges related to product and ingredient availability, staffing shortages, logistical issues with vendors and distributors, and increased administrative burden due to the end of federal waivers and return of families needing to complete school meal applications for federal reimbursement. Schools reported that state funding and increased federal school meal reimbursement rates were key factors that supported policy implementation. Findings can be used to inform other states and jurisdictions considering similar policies. The study was published online in June 2024 by lead author Monica Zuercher from the Nutrition Policy Institute, additional NPI researchers Dania Orta-Aleman, Christina Hecht, Ken Hecht, Lorrene Ritchie and Wendi Gosliner, and collaborators Juliana Cohen, Michele Polacsek and Anisha Patel. The research was funded by California General Fund Senate Bill 170, Senate Bill 154 and Senate Bill 101. Learn more about NPI's research on universal school meal programs in California and across the nation.

By Danielle Lee
Author - Director of Communications & Research Engagement
By Monica Daniela Zuercher
Editor - Assistant Project Scientist
By Wendi Gosliner
Editor - Project scientist
By Lorrene D Ritchie
Editor - Director of the Nutrition Policy Institute and Cooperative Extension Nutrition Specialist