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Serving Our Scholars

Serving Our Scholars

Bright red apple cut out on blue background.

Did you know Columbia Public Schools serves more than 2.4 million meals to scholars each school year?

Our Nutrition Services Department is made up of more than 150 dedicated individuals who work daily to provide healthy and nutritious meals for our scholars in our schools. From kitchen staff and dietitians to wellness professionals, the department staff is dedicated to maintaining the operations and services necessary to ensure the success of our scholars through healthy meals. 

There are important components to providing a healthy meal for our scholars. Under federal requirements, a complete lunch must consist of at least three of the five components offered: whole grains, a meat or protein item, fruit, vegetable, and milk. A complete breakfast consists of three of four items offered: grain or protein item (two are offered daily), fruit or vegetable, and milk. All scholars are required to take a fruit or vegetable at both lunch and breakfast.

CPS has also provided scholars with locally grown foods in the fall and spring. Watermelons, cantaloupe, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, summer squashes, apples, pears, and winter squashes can be found on our garden bars during the growing season.  

Children need healthy meals to learn. That is why, through the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, schools offer free and reduced-priced meals for families that qualify. Families can apply for this meal status by completing an application if they meet certain federally identified criteria. Currently, 44 percent of the scholars enrolled in CPS receive free or reduced-priced meals. 

The district also participates in many other federal programs, such as the Child and Adult Care Feeding Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and the Special Milk Program, among others, to support our efforts to make meals desirable and nutritious.  

Due to our participation in the National School Lunch Program, CPS can offer free breakfast and lunch to every scholar enrolled at some schools with higher percentages of free and reduced-price lunch. Currently, five schools offer free breakfast, and seven schools offer free breakfast and lunch for all scholars.

Additionally, Columbia Public Schools has long believed our scholars should have access to full healthy meals regardless of financial status. As such, the district does not offer alternative meals because of a scholar’s inability to pay. All scholars receive a full healthy meal. 

Families may be experiencing situational poverty or unforeseen circumstances that may make them unable to afford school meals for a short period, but they may not necessarily meet the federal requirements for long-term free or reduced-price meals under the USDA criteria. In those situations, CPS still offers a complete full hot meal for scholars and when necessary, utilizing its Lunch for Learners donation fund to offset costs. 

The Lunch for Learners fund was established a decade ago and anyone can donate to the fund to help our scholars in need. However, the fund is not robust enough to cover every unpaid meal debt. 

In CPS, the Nutrition Services Department is self-funded and receives no funds from bond issues or the tax levy. This means the meals and food sales, allocations from the state and federal government, and donated commodities support the department. This includes operating costs, salaries, and benefits for Nutrition Services employees, food purchases, and equipment. The department does not profit from meal sales and all funds generated go back into the department’s operating funds to sustain the meal programs.

Columbia Public Schools also must be good stewards of taxpayer dollars. As such, the district does work with families to recover unpaid meal balances. Nutrition services works directly with each family to determine if resources or supports are necessary to recover the costs, encourage completion of the USDA free and reduced-price lunch application, or provide relief through the Lunch for Learners account. When all options have been pursued, the district may need to move to formal collection of the outstanding debt. 

Serving our scholars healthy meals is something we should all be proud of and I’m especially proud of the work our nutrition services professionals do every day in support of our district’s vision and mission. 

By the Numbers

Number of Employees: 158

Number of Meals Served in 2022-2023
1,660,869 Lunches
799,799 Breakfasts
266,000 A la carte items
73,124 Preschool snacks
56,615 After-school snacks

An Apple a Day
682,875 whole apples or 245,835 pounds of whole apples
229,600 individual bags of apple slices served

Learn more online at

De'Carlon Seewood

De’Carlon Seewood is the Columbia city manager.
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