Full Plates Full Potential Celebrates Second Anniversary of School Meals for All in Maine
Over 28 million meals served to Maine kids, representing a 21% increase over pre-pandemic era
BRUNSWICK, MAINE – Two years ago, Full Plates Full Potential led the charge to write and help pass the groundbreaking “School Meals for All” legislation in Maine. This law radically transformed the lives of thousands of Maine students and families, combating childhood food insecurity by creating systemic change with seismic results.
Since the implementation of School Meals for All during the 2022-2023 school year, the impact has been profound. State officials from the Maine Department of Education (DOE) reported that 28,838,316 free meals were served to kids during the legislation’s first year, an astounding 21% increase representing over 5 million additional meals served compared to pre-pandemic levels during the 2018-2019 school year, when universal meals were not offered. For breakfast meals alone, Maine saw a 30% increase in average daily participation, representing 10,747,528 meals; while participation in school lunch increased 22% over the same time period, representing 18,090,788 meals served.
“This data unequivocally demonstrates the need and demand for school meals that was previously unmet,” said Justin Strasburger, Executive Director of Full Plates Full Potential. “School Meals for All is a watershed moment for the state, the type of systemic change that makes a real impact in the lives of children and families. It reinforces how firmly committed Maine truly is to ending childhood food insecurity.”
Perhaps the biggest impact of School Meals for All can be seen in the attitudes and morale of Maine students. Whitney Thornton of York School District stated, “Our district has nearly gotten rid of the stigma of school lunch… But now, so many kids get lunch because it’s an equal playing field, everyone is equal, and they all can get the same meals they want. It’s such a morale booster for many students, which I think is so nice.”
For the State of Maine’s Director of Child Nutrition, Jane McLucas, a former Food Service Director with 23 years of experience working for Portland and Norwood Public Schools, the data released by the DOE is both a vindication and encouraging.
“School Nutrition Directors have been fighting for decades to make universal free meals a permanent part of the Maine school day,” said McLucas. “The data released by the DOE shows what child nutrition providers have long known. With the financial barriers removed, more Maine kids are benefiting from healthy school meals than ever before.”
While many in the field consider School Meals for All a success, organizations like Full Plates Full Potential recognize more can be done to reverse a troubling statistic: Maine youth suffer the highest rate of food insecurity in all of New England.
Although all public-school students across the state now eat for free, there are still many barriers to consumption of school breakfast and lunch. Among these barriers are a lack of culturally relevant foods, absence of foods that meet religious dietary restrictions, a school schedule that simply doesn’t give students enough time to eat, and a lack of access to food outside of regular school hours or summer break.
“It’s hard to understate the importance of passing School Meals for All in Maine. But if we want kids to thrive, not just survive, there’s so much more we can do,” said Anna Korsen, Policy and Program Director of Full Plates Full Potential. “It’s why expanding access to programs like Breakfast After the Bell, Afterschool Meal programs and Summer Meal programs are so crucial. And the more support we provide not just to kids, but to the food systems that prop them up – local farms providing fresh ingredients to schools, school nutrition directors and their staff – the stronger and more sustainable our entire ecosystem will be.”
Governor Janet Mills:
“This data is proof that our nation-leading universal school meals law is improving the health and lives of children across Maine every day. I funded and signed this landmark bill because we recognized that children would be better positioned to learn, grow, thrive, and succeed in the future when they were well-fed in schools. I am proud of the progress we have achieved and of the positive impact this law is having on the lives of Maine kids. I extend my gratitude to Full Plates Full Potential for their hard work and to the Legislature for making this law a reality.”
Alex Bylander, Senior Child Nutrition Policy Analyst at the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC):
“Maine is a leader in passing School Meals for All legislation and is showing the country what is possible when free school meals are offered to all students as part of the school day. Offering school breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge to families ensures every child has the nutrition they need to grow, learn, and thrive. We urge Congress to take a lesson from Maine and pass permanent nationwide free school meals for all legislation so that children in all states are hunger-free and ready to learn.”
Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, House Republican Leader
“I supported “School Meals for All” legislation to help end class-discrimination in schools, and reduce barriers facing parents and children in need of sustenance. Children should be in the best position to focus on learning while in school.”
State Senator Troy Jackson, Senate President
“No child should be expected to learn on an empty stomach. Now that Maine has made school meals free for all students, they don’t have to and the results speak volumes. More students are participating in the school meal program and getting the food they need to learn, play and grow,” said President Jackson. “I’m grateful to everyone who helped make the first year of implementation such a success and am proud to have played a small role in making free school meals a reality for Maine kids.”
State Senator Matt Pouliot
“It’s disheartening to know that we still have thousands of our fellow citizens who have some degree of food insecurity. For many families right now, much of that is simply a choice of whether to pay for groceries or a power bill,” he said. “The fact that over 40% of our children still rely on school meals as a major source of nutrition and one out of every seven children in Maine may go hungry, the continuation of universal school meals has never been as important.”
Media Contact: Justin Strasburger
Title: Executive Director