This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

FORSYTH COUNTY, N.C. — Students at 24 Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools will eat free next year, regardless of family income.

The schools, among the district’s poorest, will serve breakfast and lunch to all students for free starting in the fall under a new program from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. 

The Community Eligibility Provision is an amendment to the National School Lunch program, designed to improve access to healthy meals for students in low-income schools. Students at the qualifying schools will be automatically enrolled in the free meal program and will not need to submit a paper application.

Lauren Richards, director of child nutrition for Winston-Salem/ Forsyth County Schools, said the program has many benefits.

It eliminates the stigma of receiving free meals, she said, and studies conducted at pilot sites in other parts of the country showed increased attendance and test scores.

“These meals are the only meals some of these kids get,” Richards said.

Amanda Mendenhall, district manager for Chartwells, the company the school district contracts with to provide school meals, said she expects the program to increase meal participation in the qualifying schools, especially during breakfast.

Right now, the district serves an average of 12,500 breakfasts a day, compared to an average of 27,500 lunches.

Much of that difference is because of a smaller window of time students have to get breakfast. Long lines can mean not all students get served.

Mendenhall said when schools don’t have to check the program status of each child coming through the line, it will speed up the process and allow more students to be served.

It will also allow some schools to serve breakfast in classrooms, Richards said. She said they expect the breakfast program to grow by as much as 25 percent in the first year.

There are also new changes coming to meal USDA meal requirements, increasing the amount of fruit to be served at breakfast and tightening nutritional standards for foods served for lunch and snacks.

The changes, which take effect in the fall, will require 1 cup of fruit to be served with school breakfast – doubling the previous year’s requirement of one half-cup of fruit.

Based on average breakfast crowd of 12,500 students, served over the course of the 180-day school year, that one change alone will increase program costs about $562,500.

New requirements also are coming to all snack foods and “a la carte” items.

Any food sold in schools must meet certain calorie, sodium, fat and sugar limits. Mendenhall said those changes will mean smaller portions for some popular items.

“It’s going to be a lot of education,” Mendenhall said. “(Students) are going to learn about portion control and (portion) size.”