Minnesota schools offer free meals after law change

One of the big changes coming to schools across Minnesota this year is universal free meals.

The new law requires schools to provide students with breakfast and lunch at no cost to families -- that means free meals for all students in the urban core school districts, the small-town rural, farming districts, as well as the more affluent, suburban districts including Minnetonka. That is where for the first time Tuesday, the Tonka district offered up a free lunch and a free breakfast to every child who walked through the doors on day one of the school year.

"The goal is that kids aren't sitting in class feeling hungry and not learning," said Minnetonka Schools Superintendent David Law.

To the critics who argue a district like Minnetonka, where 8-to-10 percent of the student body historically qualified for meal assistance, does not need a free universal program, Superintendent Law contends, it is a win for his families given societal and economic pressures.

"While it wasn't a priority for Minnetonka to ask for this, we know that our families had benefited," said Law. "And so, I think it is a win for kids and families just to destigmatize getting fed at school."

Jane Bender, Minnetonka’s Nutrition Services supervisor, gave FOX 9 a taste of the new breakfast menu – blueberry and banana muffins, fresh fruit, milk, yogurt smoothie, and potentially a baked item like a bagel with strawberry and cream cheese.

Breakfast is an entirely new concept in the district. Minnetonka had never offered it outside its early morning community ed Explorers program. It is now getting introduced all across Minnesota this fall. The meals must meet all federal and state nutritional guidelines. It is all part of what is currently a two-year, nearly $400 million program.

"There have been so many studies done," said Bender. "It has already been proven that they can concentrate better, behave better in the classroom, learn more, retain more. They are not thinking about their tummy and when lunch is coming. They are kind of set for the day until the next meal. So, it is pretty important."