I Grew Up Eating Free and Reduced Hot Lunch at School


As a mom, and as a child who grew up eating a reduced price hot lunch, I am so proud of the food subsidy programs we offer students in Vermont schools.

I recently read that 40% of Vermont students are eligible for free hot lunch. That is a huge portion, and yet we as a community have found ways to get healthy, well-balanced meals to each one of those kids. In true VT fashion, there is even a Farm to School program. The program supports our hard-working farmers and provides food education. I love that fresh, local produce is brought into our cafeterias.

Our local Farm to School program provides local produce for free hot lunches across the state of Vermont.

As a young girl, growing up in one of our tight-knit towns here in Vermont, I didn’t fully appreciate how supportive the community was of my family and families like mine. I didn’t appreciate how tax dollars, and families that sent envelopes of money into school, were helping to provide me and other students with a complete meal at lunchtime. 

Instead, I felt ashamed to be poor.

I felt like a “have-not” in a school full of “haves”. I would wait at the back of the lunch line, far away from friends and teachers, and when it came time to pay for my tray of food, I’d thrust my $0.40 into the cashier’s hand. I’d pray that they didn’t ask any questions that others might overhear. I’m not completely sure why I was so embarrassed to pay the reduced cost for lunch. I suppose I was afraid of being looked down on by my peers, because back then, I associated popularity with financial status. In reality, I associated popularity with many things that all seem pretty silly now.

When I completed paperwork for my son to start kindergarten, two things stood out to me about the lunch program. One, it was free for qualifying families.

How cool is that for a family, perhaps a family like mine that has one parent and multiple kids, and money for food is tight.  Second, the system is mostly electronic. So when a child goes up to get lunch, they can give their name and the electronic system inconspicuously pulls the funds from their account, or elsewhere. I hope this means less shame or anxiety for students as they get the nourishment they so need to continue learning through the day.

It's hard for hungry students to learn; free hot lunch addresses the grave problem of food insecurity.

I might’ve been an embarrassed adolescent when I ate my reduced, $0.40 lunch, but now that I have a child in school, and I’ve gotten to know many families in our community, I have a sense of pride that we are able to support families by providing food security in our schools. 

Have you had a chance to check out the delicious meals at your child’s school?

success, chalkboard, reduced hot lunch


  1. I agree!! The food subsidy program is so wonderful and important. I am happy to give every tax dollar necessary to see that no child goes hungry in school.

    But how do we get the Burlington schools to add back in those minutes they’ve stolen from kids’ lunch periods? Because, of course, the kids who are affected the most by those lost minutes are the ones who must stand in line to receive lunch. They don’t have the luxury of a packed lunch from home, so they can’t just slide into a table and wolf down their meal before time is up.

    And so the stigma and the stress continues…

    (My kids don’t attend the Burlington public schools, but I recently overheard some moms talking about this issue, and it broke my heart.)

    • We live outside of Burlington, but also in our town lunch time is only 25 minutes! My son prefers hot lunch, but has complained about only having a few minutes to eat after waiting in line. (We do packed lunch a couple times a week, but the extra time doesn’t seem to outweigh the hot lunch experience)

      Don’t even get me started on how short recess is!!


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