No more free lunch: Students have mixed reactions to the end of the pandemic-era program


A 2022/2023 Loudoun County High School lunch… but don’t be fooled, the cookie cost extra! The FDA currently requires all schools in the U.S. to serve a fruit and vegetable each day, along with a milk or juice. Photo by Rachel Edger

As we began our 2022-2023 school year, the discontinuation of free lunches came as a shock. Last year’s free lunch was available thanks to a pandemic-era, federally funded policy that provided free school lunches to all U.S. kindergarten through 12th grade students during COVID. Unfortunately, that privilege ended in August 2022, before the start of the 2022-2023 school year. 


The current exception to that policy is if 50% or more students in a school qualify for free or reduced price for school lunch, school-wide free lunch will be provided. This can be found in title 1 of the Federally Funded Program. At Loudoun County High School, not only are people upset about not being able to access free lunch if they forget their own, students are very aware of peers who may truly depend on the meal provided by the school.


“I think that if they were free it would help kids who can’t really afford lunch,” junior Sneha Mehta said. “Food should be a priority for kids, and school lunches should be free…It’s the minimum.”


Currently, of Loudoun County High school’s 1,500 students, only 17.9% students are currently enrolled in free or discounted lunch. Lunch at Loudoun County High school currently costs $3.15, a price that does not include a chip of choice, cookie, or bottled water. While the FDA and USDA have guidelines and rules on public school lunches, the local school authorities make the specific decisions on what is made.


Along with the concern for students’ food safety and stability that may have been affected, some feedback on the quality of lunches made it seem that students are less okay with lunches now that they are back to full price. Students in a study hall disagreed over the quality of the entrees. Senior Izzy Zemani explained, “This bowl of like… chicken… it was really greasy…. It was nasty,” but quickly an anonymous student clapped back, “I like that one!”.


Students around the school, anonymously surveyed in various classes, describe the school lunch as being a “3/4 out of ten” or “50/50”, “unpredictable,” with one saying, “A lot of the time it’s not really cooked all the way… like it’s sloppy or there’s stuff wrong with it”. However, one student made the point that “If it’s free, I will eat it. Food is food.”


Looking into the near future, the school lunch quality could be improved, but it is still food, and many are dependent on school-provided meals.