MERCED, Calif. -- With food prices, inflation, and food insecurity on the rise in California, leaders in education are taking action.
Beginning this school year, California will be the first state to implement the Universal Meals program, providing free meals to all schoolchildren.
The program will make sure all kids have access to free meals at school.
It's a big win for the district and the students.
Merced Union High School District (MUHSD) got a head start. Because of the need, the district was already serving free breakfast and lunch, taking the pressure off students in the lunch line.
Now, across the state, instead of worrying about packing a lunch, students can get yummy options at no cost.
On average, 1 out of every 5 Californians does not know where their next meal will come from.
So that's why the MUHSD's director of nutritional services says health and equity are top of mind.
"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," says Erin Tassey.
While student Yohan Zuzlewski had to pay for lunch last year, he's grateful to also be saving a few bucks.
"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 program is a part of Assembly Bill 130 signed into law by Governor Newsom last July.
On Thursday, school workers prepped for lunch portioning out pizza with whole grain bread.
The meal programs are state and federally funded.