Public school students in California no longer need to worry about the cost of school meals.

Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a bill that will ensure free school lunch for all public school students. The new program, Universal Meals, was created by the state's policy makers at a time when inflation, food prices and overall food insecurity is soaring all over the country.

With this new program students will have access to at least two nutritious meals a day. And since there are districts in the state where 1 in 5 residents struggle with food insecurity, the new bill should help where it matters most.

What is in the Universal Meals bill?

There's more to the bill, besides just offering free school lunch.

The bill contains three components.

First, it expands the meal mandate California already has in place to include a free adequate breakfast and lunch for all students every day, not just those in need. Secondly, for schools considered to be "high-poverty," they will also be expected to participate in federal provisions. And lastly, the California State Legislature will cover the cost of the Universal Meals program by providing additional state meal reimbursement.

What does the free school lunch program look like?

Merced Union High School District (MUHSD), one of the first school districts to pilot the program and implement the changes outlined in the bill, has already seen a positive success rate.

The schools within MUHSD currently offer free breakfast and free lunch to all of their students. Any student that previously worried about their school account having enough money to purchase food, no longer has that stress. And for those who rush out of the door in the morning without a proper breakfast or a packed lunch, this will certainly help them also. Not to mention, all of the money families will save by not having to purchase new lunch boxes every year!

Erin Tassey, MUHSD's Director of Nutritional Services, says that the school districts top priorities are health and equity. In an interview with ABC 7 News, Tassey stated, "When a student would come through a lunch line and they were considered to be a free student, it would create definitely a barrier with getting meals during the day." But, now students can stand in line for food without feeling stressed or worried about whether their accounts have enough funds to cover costs.

Current student at MUSHD, Yohan Zuzlewski, also spoke to the new outlet. Zuzlewski was one of the many students who previously had to pay for school food. He said, "I remember when I was in elementary school I had to pay for lunch and I really didn't like that, it's nice to know that this benefits everyone overall."

The Universal Meals program is both state and federally funded.