A historic moment for Massachusetts Kids

Thank Governor Healey and the Legislature for Making School Meals for All Permanent in Massachusetts!

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School Meals for All is an investment in better quality school meals


When it comes to school meals, providing the best possible meals to students to fuel their health and education should be our primary concern. When we provide School Meals for All, we’re also effectively providing more money to school nutrition programs which allows them to serve free, nutritious meals. As schools have been serving meals to all students without cost - School Meals for All - more kids have been eating school meals daily. 

In October 2022, over 80,000 additional students ate school lunch compared to October 2019 in schools where meals were not free. More kids eating school meals results in higher overall revenue for the schools, which they can invest back into their school meals program to provide better, fresher, more nutritious school food for students.


  1. By increasing participation, School Meals for All increases overall revenue to school meal programs.
  2. Replacing fees with a state reimbursement increases per meal revenue.
  3. Eliminating fees means eliminating the burden of school meal debt on families and schools.

  4. Increasing participation helps schools reduce their per meal cost.

young girl biting into lunch in school cafeteria and looking at camera

3. Eliminating fees means eliminating the burden of school meal debt on families and schools.

4. Increasing participation helps schools reduce their per meal cost.

orange chicken lunch


"Knowing that I will be reimbursed for all meals sold, I’m able to get better quality food...Since we have a larger audience, I know I can try new foods to keep the variety interesting. We have tried falafels, edamame, asparagus, chana masala, fish tacos- all these things that we couldn’t chance before. I have implemented produce bars at all the schools so students get to pick their produce and be exposed to fruits and veggies they might not be eating at home. I’ve been able to hire 4 more staff members which is great for the town, along with raise our wages. If we lose free meals I will have to lay off staff. Our produce bars will have less options. Our ability to partner with local vendors will be a struggle since pricing is usually higher."

-Leah Botko, School Nutrition Director, Littleton Public Schools


School meals are reimbursed based on the number of individual meals served. When more kids participate in school meals, their school receives a higher reimbursement that can be used to invest in their program.

At the end of each month, districts provide a report to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), specifying how many breakfasts and lunches are served to students eligible for free meals, reduced-price meals, and all non-qualifying students. DESE then uses federal dollars to reimburse meals based on these three categories with the most federal funding going to the meals at the free rate and the least going to meals served to non-qualifying students. Under School Meals for All, every breakfast and lunch served, regardless of federal eligibility status, are reimbursed fully.

"We are making money now, but if we were not being reimbursed at the free rate, we would 100% be breaking-even or in the red. I'm really worried about free meals going away and what that will mean for school nutrition. Right now, districts are able to go out and get better quality ingredients and update equipment, but that will not be possible if we do not have free meals."

- Kelly Haley, School Nutrition Director, Uxbridge Public Schools

Racial and gender diverse group of kids eating school lunch.


Traditionally, students who are not eligible for free meals have to pay for the food they get at school. Many families are just shy of qualifying for food assistance and are still unable to afford these fees, keeping their kids from getting the nutrition they need at school. We know roughly 1 in 4 children live in a household experiencing food insecurity that does not qualify for free or reduced-price meals. 

While the federal government provides schools with a base reimbursement for the cost of full price meals, schools receive less than they would if all meals were reimbursed at the federal free rate for meals. This means less money is available for the meals they serve, and makes it exceedingly difficult for school nutrition staff to give students the meals their growing bodies need.

Under School Meals for All, every child can eat for free regardless of their family’s income, and schools can receive increased reimbursement for nutritious meals they’re proud to serve.

school meal reimbursement chart

Eliminating fees means eliminating the burden of school meal debt on families and schools.

Before the switch to School Meals for All in 2020, school meal debt was a major issue across the Commonwealth. As Massachusetts was only 1 of 5 states providing a state funded School Meals for All program this year, districts in other states have seen skyrocketing debt. 

This is problematic for a number of reasons beyond the unnecessary stress on families who are not able to pay down their balance. Unpaid meal fees take away from the revenue of the program and at the end of the year must be covered, often requiring funds to be spent from the general budget of the school district.

  • "The free meal program has been awesome. Breakfast participation is way up and the kids like it a lot. Although we are putting out more meals, not having to track down debt has been huge too. Negative balances would go back years and we were always spending time tracking down students. It would take days mailing out 200 letters and now I am not spending that type of money and time. We are able to do more fun things and try out new items and there is less drudgery. Our salad bars are amazing this year because we can sit down and think about doing something special this week - we have pickled onions and the kids love having options. I hope and pray that this continues." - Dianne Mucci, the Food Service Director in Mendon-Upton Regional School


Under School Meals for All, no student needs to pay a fee for a reimbursable meal and the district is fully compensated for every meal served.

This is for two reasons: reducing labor costs and buying in larger quantities.

salad bar


In addition to greater revenue and elimination of debt, Universal School Meals can also save labor and purchasing costs. 

More students to feed means more work for school nutrition staff to do– so how does increasing participation reduce labor costs?  As an author of a USDA funded study put it:

“Let’s say somebody needs to make a pot of pasta. [School food services] can dump in another package of pasta, but it’s still the same giant pot, and it’s still the same amount of time to boil it. So if they could get 10, 20, 30 more kids eating from that same pot of pasta, they would drop that per student cost of pasta because the labor would stay the same and there’d be marginal changes in food costs and other related costs.”

The researchers also suggest that the reduced time spent on paperwork or debt collection also leads to savings. Under School Meals for All, meal programs can spend more time learning new skills, developing recipes, finding better vendors, and otherwise improving the program rather than administrative tasks.They estimated the savings was 67 cents less per lunch and 58 cents less per breakfast.

Increased participation also allows school nutrition staff to negotiate better pricing for products. Just like a household buying larging packages of groceries or buying in bulk at a store like Costco, schools can negotiate betting prices for food, paper goods, and other materials needed to turn ingredients into meals that are served to students. Again, these savings translate into more time and money that can be used toward staffing, ingredients, training, and other program improvements.


A fully funded School Meals for All program is necessary to continue increasing access to meals as well as enabling districts to make the investments that will allow them to serve the best meals possible to students.

kids in school lunch line

You can help by urging lawmakers to make School Meals for All permanent in Massachusetts.

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