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Serving 15,000 lunches a day
62% of students qualify for free or reduced meals
Manteca Unified expects to serve about 15,000 meals a day when school starts Thursday. - photo by Bulletin file photo

Online applications for free and reduced meals along with eligibility requirements are available by going to

Manteca Unified is expected to serve as many as 15,000 meals a day when school starts Thursday.

Most of the students, though, won’t pay full price. That’s because 62 percent of the district’s 23,000 students in Manteca, Lathrop, Weston Ranch and French Camp are eligible for free or reduced meals through the National School Lunch and Breakfast program.

The program uses a sliding scale to determine eligibility. For example, a household with four in it making $29,965 a year qualifies for free student meals. A family of four with an annual household income between $29,966 and $42,643 is eligible for reduced meals.

A full breakfast price is $1 for both elementary and high school students. Reduced price breakfast is 25 cents. High school lunches are going up 25 cents to $2.25 this school year. The reduced meal price is 40 cents. Elementary lunch is still $1.75 with the reduced price 40 cents.

This Wednesday marks the final day of the free sack lunch program provided to those under 18 at various sites through the district regardless of family income. Some 45,000 sack lunches were distributed free this summer.

Patti Page, Manteca Unified Director of Nutritional Services, noted that there has been some criticism of the program for not requiring income verification. The federal government allows districts that do not subsidize full-price school year meals with federal payments made to assist with free and reduced meals to offer the summer sack program. The cost is reimbursed by the federal government with the condition being that all children regardless of family income can have a free sack lunch.

Page said the district has received a number of thank-you notes from parents who indicated they would have been unable to offer their children nutritional lunches this summer due to their financial situations.

Page said the Nutritional Services staff does not view what they do as a food program as much as being a critical component in the learning process.

“We’re in the business to enhance education,” Page said.

She noted students who have good nutritional meals and aren’t hungry are better behaved, have better attention, and retain more of what they learn. Retention of learning is one of the driving forces behind the federal effort to make sure kids have at least one nutritional meal Monday through Friday during the summer.

Page also noted that nutritional services is run like a business and stands on its own without any general fund support from Manteca Unified. Each of the 12 school site cafeteria site managers are required to do the equivalent of profit and loss statements and to review with staff more efficient ways to deliver lunches with an emphasis on cost and quality.

Manteca Unified is one of the few districts that not only have a self-supporting food services department that doesn’t chip into funds specifically targeted for classrooms but also exceeds federal standards for providing nutritional meals.

Last school year Manteca Unified served 3,465,233 lunches making it by far the largest food operation in the community.