School meals program starts taking burden off Minnesota parents

Impact of free meal program

Impact of free meal program

This is the first year Minnesota students get free breakfast and lunch at school, and it’s already making a positive impact on families.

Abby Geditz, a Fridley mom, has her hands full with three toddlers, but now her kid’s school is taking one less thing off her plate.

In preschool, her little girl is able to eat breakfast and lunch for free all thanks to a new statewide program. 

“It’s nice. She likes it, and it’s just one less thing to worry about in the morning,” Geditz said. “Food is getting more expensive, so it’s definitely nice to have that where you don’t have to pay for one meal.”

The state’s universal free meal program kicked into high gear this fall, providing free breakfast and lunch to students each day.

For children who met the requirements for free lunch in the past, the federal government will continue to pick up the tab.

But for those who did not meet the threshold, the state of Minnesota will foot that bill, which is nearly $400 million dollars for the first two years.

“It’s huge, and it’s been a long time coming, and it’s needed right now,” said Leah Gardner, policy director for Hunger Solutions Minnesota.

Hunger Solutions Minnesota was a big advocate to get the law passed.

The organization launched the Hunger-Free Schools campaign a few years ago to push for free meals for all students regardless of income.

“This is the most important thing that I’ve ever been part of. It’s been amazing,” Gardner said. “We did this campaign by listening to families and by listening to young people about what they needed.”

Hunger Solutions Minnesota found the new program saves families over $1,000 per child each year.

Organization leaders said 43% of students in the state were already eligible for federal help, but some families who did not meet the requirements were still struggling.

“This is for all parents. Just know when your kids are at school, they’re going to be taken care of and they’re going to get fed,” Gardner said. “I think the benefits of this are just so tremendous, and long-term this is not only an investment in education, this is a health equity investment.”

A few public schools opted out of the free meal program, including Prior Lake High School and Byron High School.

As for private schools, it’s on a case-by-case basis.