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Why Your Kid Should Eat School Lunch Now

Updated: Sep 26, 2023

A garden bar in the Madison Metropolitan School District.

New garden bars plus an MTI-led campaign could and should lead to more program participation.

With a new school year comes the opportunity to check out what’s happening with school food!

The Education Justice Coalition and Madison Teachers Incorporated (MTI) are currently advancing a campaign to help bust myths about the Madison Metropolitan School District’s school food programs and to encourage families to participate more often.

When more kids eat school breakfast and lunch, the program receives more federal funds, opening the doors for better quality food – i.e., locally-sourced, scratch-cooked, and culturally-relevant foods – and better jobs. As the coalition and MTI share, increasing your participation in the program by just 1-2 times per week could provide a big influx of funds to the program.

Natasha Sullivan of MTI told us: “We’re excited that our community is rallying behind this issue! A robust school meal program saves time and money for families, ensures students are focused on learning, creates stable jobs in schools, and supports our Wisconsin agriculture.”

This year has also started with an exciting development for school lunch in MMSD elementary schools: garden bars! For the first time since before the pandemic, nearly all elementary schools have bars offering fresh fruits, vegetables, and other offerings that students choose and serve themselves. They can choose what they want and how much, and kids can even put together a reimbursable meal from garden bar selections.

Some days we are sending our kids with just a sandwich and having them pick sides from the garden bar – a time saver and stress relief for us plus we can support the program! We’ve been impressed seeing the bars in action, as even the kindergarteners seem excited by the options and skilled in serving themselves. And because kids choose how much to take and nothing is pre-packaged, garden bars mean a lot less trash too!

The beginning of the school year is also the best time to see if you qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Based on income and household size, sometimes families who would qualify don’t apply, so it’s a good idea to see if you do. When schools have more than 40% of families qualifying, the district can apply for these schools to become Community Eligibility Provision schools and provide free breakfast and lunch for all students – healthy school meals for all!

If you’re new to MMSD’s school food program, you can learn more here, including how to set up your account and put a balance on School Cafe and see menus. And look for news on a special community event coming from the Education Justice Coalition and MMSD Food Service on Sunday, October 8th, with a panel on school food justice and taste testing.

Remember! When we say school meals are an important resource for all kids and we’re committed to keep making it better, we are also saying public schools are important for all kids and we commit to making them better. We’re in this together, one bite at a time.

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