By Cheyenne Liberti, Farm to Program Consultant at the Michigan Department of Education
Photos courtesy of Sarah Rypma
Food service professionals are blazing a trail in advancing child nutrition in Michigan. For the first time, Michigan will have a state-funded universal free meals program during the 2023-2024 School Year – Michigan School Meals. Public schools participating in the Michigan School Meals program will serve lunch and breakfast at no cost to students. This is a huge leap forward in expanding food security in Michigan. In 2021, 13.1% of children in the state were food insecure (1). Research has shown that programs like Michigan School Meals expand access to breakfast and lunch at school, and help families afford groceries (2). Both of these outcomes can help address food insecurity in our state and promote the health and well-being of all children.
The Michigan School Meals program isn’t the only place where Michigan is leading the way for other states. 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms was established as a pilot program in 2016 and became a permanent statewide program in 2020. With state-funded grants of up to 10 cents multiplied by the number of meals served last year, the program matches what schools, early care and education sites, and other non-school food programs spend on Michigan-grown minimally processed fruits, vegetables, and dry beans. So, if a school purchases $100 of fresh Michigan broccoli, the 10 Cents a Meal grant gives them $50 back.
Local purchasing incentives like the 10 Cents a Meal Program are an important resource for supporting child nutrition and Michigan agriculture. The program provides additional funding to food program managers, which opens the door to purchasing a larger quantity and wider variety of produce for meals served to children. Children have the opportunity to choose, try, and enjoy Michigan-grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans, which are often more delicious and nutrient dense than produce that was harvested and traveled thousands of miles before it reached the plate. In the process, kids develop more awareness of local food products and the system around them, and may be more likely to choose fruits, vegetables, and beans in the future. Additionally, during the 2021-2022 program year, 47% of participating food program managers reported that the Program allowed them to make new connections with local food suppliers (3), reaching over 109 farms in 40 counties and 39 additional businesses such as distributors, processors, packers, and food hubs (4). These relationships help to provide consistent markets for Michigan suppliers and increase their profitability, which strengthens the overall local food economy to the benefit of all Michiganders.
So, how do these two innovative programs work together? The Michigan School Meals program, through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP), ensures that all students can access meals in school and provides benefits such as better attendance rates, fewer missed school days, and better test scores (5). 10 Cents a Meal and other local purchasing initiatives supplement these benefits with higher meal quality, increased sales for Michigan suppliers, and a stronger local economy. Each program has a positive impact on its own, but pairing the two together ensures that we are using school food service dollars for the greatest benefit of all Michiganders, especially children and farmers. The “What’s on Your Plate?” comparison chart below demonstrates how both programs can impact the content of meals served, cost to the consumer, and profits cycled back into Michigan’s economy.
What’s on Your Plate? This comparison chart shows how school lunch can differ when a school participates in the Michigan School Meals program, 10 Cents a Meal, both or neither. The labels next to each plate show the contents of the meal, including where the produce was grown and how much money went back to a Michigan farmer when the produce was purchased*. The “Where’s the Money?” section shows how much a paid school meal would cost families in each scenario, and how much profit is made by Michigan farmers because of the produce the school bought from Michigan farmers.
*Prices included in the comparison chart are for demonstration only and are not based on actual sales data.
Michigan School Meals can complement and help expand 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms. During the federally funded universal free meals program that was available to schools during the 2021-2022 school year, Michigan schools saw an increase in the number of meals served in schools across the state, compared to the 2018-2019 school year when traditional free, reduced-price, and paid pricing was used. We expect to see increases in participation during the 2023-2024 school year with Michigan School Meals as well. As schools serve more meals, they will also be eligible for higher 10 Cents a Meal grant awards that can foster additional local purchasing.
Michigan has a vibrant and diverse farming and food business sector. With Michigan School Meals working hand in hand with local purchasing, food has less distance to travel and fewer steps before it reaches the school, which means that the food supply chain may be less vulnerable to disruptions from events happening outside of the state. For the same reason, local purchasing is more environmentally sustainable as well. Greenhouse gas emissions from energy use in the transportation of food items is reduced when purchasing from suppliers within the state, compared to transportation from suppliers in most other states or countries (6). Additionally, fruits, vegetables, and beans – the products featured by
the Program – have some of the lowest on-farm greenhouse gas emissions among agricultural products (7). We can all benefit by working together to put more local produce in Michigan School Meals.
When 10 Cents a Meal and Michigan School Meals come together, Michigan's kids receive the best meal access and quality that we can offer. To learn more about 10 Cents a Meal for Michigan’s Kids and Farms visit tencentsmichigan.org. To learn more about the Michigan School Meals Program, visit https://www.michigan.gov/mde/services/food/michigan-school-meals.
- “Food Insecurity among Child (<18 years) Population in Michigan.” Feeding America. https://map.feedingamerica.org/county/2021/child/michigan
- Marcus, M., Yewell, K. (2022). The Effect of Free School Meals on Household Food Purchases: Evidence from the Community Eligibility Provision. Journal of Health Economics. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhealeco.2022.102646 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167629622000650)
- 3. McManus, M., Matts, C. (2022). 10 Cents a Meal 2020–2021 Evaluation Results: Expanded Eligibility Increased Impacts. Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. Retrieved from https://foodsystems.msu.edu/10-cents-eval-2022
- 10 Cents a Meal For Michigan’s Kids and Farms 2020-2021 Legislative Report. https://assets.nationbuilder.com/tencentsmichigan/pages/26/attachments/original/16365849 80/2020-2021_10_Cents_a_Meal_Legislative_Report.pdf?1636584980
- “CDC Healthy Schools: School Meals.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/nutrition/schoolmeals.htm
- Kreier, F. (2022). Transporting Food Generates Whopping Amounts of Carbon Dioxide. Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-01766-0
- Poore, J., Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing Food’s Environmental Impacts Through Producers and Consumers. Science. https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.aaq0216