farm to school usda photo

How free and reduced-price school meals and 10 Cents a Meal work together to feed Michigan’s children

Above photo courtesy USDA.

Free and reduced-price meals are served to kids every day across the country through programs such as the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP). In Michigan, the state-funded 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms program amplifies that impact by providing financial incentives for including local, Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans in those meals.

A crash course on feeding kids with federal and state funding

What are free and reduced price meals?

The purpose of free and reduced-priced meals in schools is to ensure that students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds have access to nutrient-dense meals. Across the nation, these federal programs are designed to address nutrition insecurity and provide a safety net for children who may not have reliable access to meals at home. In doing so, free and reduced-price meals also shine a light on educational equity by acknowledging hunger as a barrier to learning and academic success.
 
Additionally, program operators can use the federally supported Community Eligibility Provision (CEP). This is a meal service option for schools that predominantly serve low-income children. When CEP is used by qualifying schools, it allows them to offer free, nutritious school meals to all students without collecting paper applications, which is often required in other meal programs. According to the Michigan Department of Education, in the 2021-22 school year 70 10 Cents a Meal grantees participated in the CEP.
 
Complementing federal funding with state-funded programs
Whereas free and reduced priced lunches are federally funded, 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms is a state-funded program. With grants of up to 10 cents per meal, the program matches what schools, early care and education sites, and a set of other non-school sponsors spend on Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans.

To be eligible for 10 Cents a Meal, grantees must be participating in a USDA Child Nutrition program. Grants are awarded based on a calculation that multiplies the applicant’s previous year’s meal count times 10 cents. This represents the maximum grant award that can be issued to each applicant. Because this award is a matching grant, grantees must spend double their grant award to fulfill the matching requirement and receive the full reimbursement of their grant. Said in other words, grantees are reimbursed 50% of the cost of eligible Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans up to their maximum grant award. 
 
The 10 Cents a Meal program acts as a catalyst for positive change by fostering community connections and strengthening a sustainable local food system for the benefit of Michigan’s children and farms. 
 
What happens when state and federal funds work together? 
 
A lot of good. The 10 Cents a Meal program serves as a complementary initiative to free and reduced lunches. While free and reduced lunches provide meals to students, the 10 Cents a Meal program takes it a step further by specifically supporting the inclusion of fresh, nutrient-dense, locally grown produce in school meals. It provides additional funding to schools, allowing them to purchase and incorporate these food items into their menus, increasing the overall quality of the meals offered to students.
 
Educational opportunities are also created at this intersection. Through farm visits, garden programs, and other farm to school initiatives, students can learn about food production, sustainable agricultural practices, and the importance of connecting what they see on their lunch tray with the world around them. These experiences not only provide hands-on learning, but also foster a deeper appreciation for local food systems, environmental stewardship, and the cultural heritage of food. 
 
The funding that 10 Cents a Meal provides supports local farmers and Michigan agriculture by fostering