Packing school lunches may be a thing of the past for Michigan parents.
The new “Michigan School Meals” program was adopted by the state legislature, signed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and will begin for the 2023-24 school year for all public school districts that choose to participate. Lowell Area Schools will be participating.
Every LAS student will now have the option to receive free breakfast and lunch each school day.
LAS Chief Financial Officer Sonia Hodge says she is excited about the convenience and financial help this will bring to Michigan families.
“Not only will it help families financially, I believe it will help remove social barriers students may experience to take advantage of school breakfasts and lunches,” Hodge says. “And as a parent, it’s one less thing I have to worry about – financially or logistically.”
LAS Foodservice Director Brad Stinson agrees, “This will be a great opportunity for many families who are close to qualifying, but just miss out.” Previously, only families that met income guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture were eligible for free lunches.
In anticipation of increased foodservice demand, LAS is purchasing additional kitchen equipment, according to Hodge. She says Chartwells Food Service will continue to manage food service operations.
“We are very proud of the food service program we have here at Lowell,” Hodge says.
Stinson adds the new program may cause the department a few growing pains. “This will keep us busy for sure,” he says. “We will need to work out some kinks to start with the added numbers we are expecting.”
As far as the types of meals that will be provided, the Michigan Department of Education website says, “In addition to meals provided free of charge, the meals follow USDA nutrition guidelines.”
“We are always trying to add more local fruits and vegetables to our menu,” Stinson shares. “We hope to build on what we buy from Cherry Capital, a Michigan distributor that offers Michigan products.”
Secondary level students will have the option to purchase additional a la carte items. Teacher and staff meals are not part of the free meal program.
One thing that may be confusing to parents is the need to still fill out the Education Benefits form. Hodge says families that fall “anywhere near” the national eligibility criteria should still fill out the form. She says much of the district’s grant funding is based on the percentage of students that qualify for free and reduced meals under USDA income guidelines. Grants for social workers and interventionists for math and reading are tied to how many families are eligible.
“We could potentially see those grant dollars and programs drop if we see fewer families returning forms,” she explains.
Hodge says another reason to fill out the form is that some school fees, such as athletics participation fees, can be waived or lowered for families who meet USDA guidelines for free or reduced meals. Eligibility cannot be verified without the form.
The district is also required to document each “free and reduced” student with a filled out form for every meal that is served in order to receive federal grant money as well as state money.
“Our goal is to maximize federal reimbursements to help keep the state’s new program sustainable,” Hodge says.