By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
State Implements Free Meal Program In All Public Schools
Breakfast, Brunch, Lunch
o lunch
Oakdale Joint Unified School District Director of Café Services Jason Beach shows one of the food service kiosks that will be utilized for the 2022-23 school year, as all students will have access to free meals, regardless of income.

Oakdale Joint Unified students and families will have one less thing to worry about for the 2022-23 school year. A topic which has been talked about for years, has been extended to the district as a whole as the state of California has implemented a Universal Meals Program.

According to the California Department of Education (CDE) website, “California is the first state to implement a statewide Universal Meals Program for school children. California’s Universal Meals Program (Universal Meals) is designed to build on the foundations of the federal National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP).”

“Last year California had decided to utilize its extensive budget to cover the parents’ portions of foundations of the federal National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program,” OJUSD Director of Café Services, Jason Beach shared.

“It’s not quite that everybody’s free, it’s just that California is picking up the bill,” he continued, noting that normally the federal government would cover most of the fees, while the state paid approximately seven percent, with families covering the difference.

Putting this new program in place statewide, including OJUSD, the State of California will cover the parent portion of the meal. However, schools must still do paperwork to get reimbursements.

“That’s one thing we really want to get across, we still need applications in,” Beach stated. “It goes so much further than the meals. It goes as far as lower internet costs with homes, helps with district funds outside of the normal.”

Beach shared completion of the application, unlike previous years, is not income dependent. It does, however, make it easier for the student to access their free breakfast or brunch, as well as lunch whenever they should choose.

To try and motivate students as well as their parents to complete the on-line application, Beach has created a raffle opportunity for each student who completes the process. Students entered through the application process are eligible to win a number of items including: mountain bikes, water bottles, sports balls, art kits, robot kits, movie tickets, as well as a number of other items. Two Grand Prizes have also been secured. Primary grade students will be eligible for a Nintendo Switch Bundle, while Secondary grades are eligible for a Grand Prize of Microsoft X-Box Series S.

“Anybody who fills out an application and gets it in, they get entered into this. Doesn’t matter if you qualify or feel like you want it (the meals) or not,” Beach explained.

Not new to Provision Programs, when Beach first joined the OJUSD kitchen team, his goals were to bring better quality food to the students, as well as ensure all students were being fed.

“This steps up to the bar and says hey, let us help you out. Let us get you those free meals, let’s get the application in, because the application goes so much further than just us,” he said of the statewide opportunity. “Nobody ever knows that. It’s not just the meals. It’s the academics, it’s the sports, it’s everything. It’s the whole nine yards that it covers (by way of reduced cost).”

Recognizing that there is more than just need at the high school level, the director shared a roll out of vending machines with healthy alternatives for OHS later in the school year, as well as kiosks which have been purchased and will be on campus by late August. The three kiosks will serve as additional locations for high school students to purchase lunch on campus.

“I saw these kids were trying to cram themselves into that little space like sardines in a can and I knew we had to change it,” Beach said of the high school’s inside eating area, noting the space has just simply become too small for the number of students it needs to feed. “I was watching these kids at the end of the line wait for minutes and minutes and walk away hungry and not come back to eat.”

Not all kids will take advantage of the free meals program, he added, though they do have the option.

“I understand that we also support the local businesses (lunch time),” Beach continued. “I’m not trying to take away from them, but I’m also trying to make sure these kids get nutritious meals on a daily basis and something that can get them through the day.”

Not to be overlooked, Oakdale Junior High will also receive a version of the lunch kiosks later this year.

“Everyone is eating for free this year, regardless of income status,” Beach emphasized. “I just really want their help getting that application because it goes so much further and then it helps us.”

In addition to providing the students with free meals, Beach shared his goal is to make it as good or better than the quality of food they are getting at home or off campus.

“We want to exceed their expectations,” he said. “I think we will capture an absurd amount of students in this district in participating in our program over time.”

A QR code has been provided to OHS students via last week’s Round-Up events to help parents complete the application. The brief application may also be found at or by contacting