Massachusetts will offer school meals to all students, even those who don’t need them, with millions coming out of the $56 billion state budget signed last week by the governor.
Some $172 million is earmarked for the universal free school meals program available to all public-school students K-12.
Gov. Maura Healey called the program “an investment in childhood nutrition that’s also removing a source of stress from our schools and our homes,” according to Boston.com.
One group estimates the program will save families $1,000 per student each year, but research suggests universal school meals are much more costly than homemade meals in the long run, especially when considering federal funds already cover meals for low-income students.
Research published by the Journal of Child Nutrition and Management shows homemade lunches cost about $1.55 per meal while school lunches cost more than $2. More than half of school funds are spent on labor, supplies, facilities and administrative services – not food.
Last school year, California was one the first states to implement a universal free school meal program. But one 20-year food service employee at Oakland County school district called it a “waste.”
The worker, who goes by Ann, recalled seeing students whose parents could afford to pay for their meals throwing them in the trash, reported local WXYZ.
The World Wildlife Funds estimated U.S. school waste 530,000 tons of food every year, the management of which costs $9.7 million a day.
Ann believes the money would be better spent on families who didn’t have money for daily meals.
“I’d always give them whatever I had leftover instead of throwing it away, because I knew they needed it,” Ann said, according to WXYZ.
Seven other states have approved similar free school meals program: California, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Vermont.