Lake County students will continue to receive free breakfasts and lunches this school year, regardless of household income.

The free meals are a result of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), a federal program that allows schools serving predominantly low-income communities to offer breakfast and lunch to all students at no charge. Students still have to purchase snack foods and additional menu items with cash or on their account.

The School Nutrition Association says that serving all students for free, which started in 2018-19 for Lake, ensures children will have access to healthy school meals every day and eliminates the stigma for those who rely on free school meals as a key source of nutrition. Additionally, the association says that having all students share the same meal together in the cafeteria helps strengthen a sense of school community and fosters healthy eating habits.

As an added benefit, eliminating the payment process speeds up the lunch line, giving students more time to eat their meal. The free meals also may draw more students to participate in the school lunch/breakfast programs, and that means more funding that can be used for food, labor and equipment.

CEP reduces administrative costs for schools by reducing postage for meal benefit applications, eliminates concerns about negative lunch account balances and gives cafeteria staff more time to focus on planning and preparing healthy meals.