New study explores Maine and California's experiences successfully passing School Meals for All policy

Jun 13, 2024

During the first two years of the pandemic, the federal government enacted waivers to allow school meals to be offered to all students at no cost to families. In July 2021, California and Maine became the first states to authorize permanent universal school meals, mandating free school meals to combat food insecurity and improve students' physical and academic health. In this qualitative study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 30 key stakeholders between December 2021 and June 2022 to explore the factors contributing to the passage of school meals for all legislation in each state. The stakeholders interviewed included policymakers, state agency officials, and advocates. Researchers identified 11 themes from the interviews, including national attention on child hunger, budget surpluses, single-party political control, experienced policymakers, and the context of the ending of pandemic meal waivers. Documenting and sharing lessons from the implementation of universal school meals legislation in California, Maine, and other early adopting states can help inform the potential expansion of access to school meals in other states and nationally. This study was conducted by Nutrition Policy Institute researchers Wendi Gosliner, Kenneth Hecht, Christina Hecht, and Lorrene Ritchie, Amelie Hecht from the University of Wisconisin-Madison, Lindsey Turner from the College of Education, Boise State University, Michele Polacsek from the Center for Excellence in Public Health, University of New England, and Juliana Cohen from the Department of Public Health and Nutrition, Merrimack College.

By Brianna Aguayo Villalon
Author - Student Communications Fellow
By Wendi Gosliner
Editor - Project scientist
By Lorrene Ritchie
Editor - Director of Research