The National School Lunch Program — the nation’s second largest food and nutrition assistance program behind SNAP — makes it possible for all school children in the United States to receive a nutritious lunch every school day. The vast majority of schools — approximately 95 percent — participate in the program, providing meals to more than 30 million children on an average day.
Eligibility for Free or Reduced-Price School Meals During the Shutdown
Families can apply for free or reduced-price school meals at any point during the school year. This is a long-standing rule to reflect the many changes in families’ economic circumstances that can occur. This practice applies to households with furloughed employees. To apply, families should contact their school nutrition department. School districts also have the flexibility to date the eligibility for free or reduced-price school meals as of the date of the application (rather than the later date on which they approve the application) to provide more immediate support to families. If a school district has questions, they should contact their state child nutrition agency.
- 21.5 million low-income children participated in the National School Lunch Program on a typical day in the 2016-2017 school year.
- More than 97,000 schools participated in the National School Lunch Program in the 2016-2017 school year.
- Any public school, nonprofit private school, or residential child care institution can participate in the program and receive federal funds for each meal served.
- Meals served through the National School Lunch Program meet federal nutrition standards, which require schools to serve more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- The program is administered at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and in each state typically through the state department of education or agriculture.
- Benefits of School LunchA wide body of research supports the health and educational benefits of participation in the National School Lunch Program. Studies show that participation in school lunch reduces food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor health. Find out more about the benefits of school lunch participation.
- Eligibility and ReimbursementsLow-income children are eligible to receive meals for free or at a reduced price based on their household income or participation in other government programs like SNAP or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Children from moderate to higher-income households pay the school lunch fee set by the school district. Find out more about school meal eligibility and how children are certified for free and reduced-price school meals.
- Community Eligibility ProvisionCommunity eligibility allows high-poverty schools and districts to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. Schools that use community eligibility have seen increases in participation in school breakfast and school lunch and reduced administrative costs as community eligibility schools no longer have to collect school meals applications. Find out more about the Community Eligibility Provision.
- Every Student Succeeds ActThe Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers important opportunities for anti-hunger advocates to increase participation in the federal nutrition programs, particularly the school, summer, and afterschool nutrition programs. These programs are critical education supports, ensuring that students are well-nourished and able to focus, concentrate, and learn. Increasing student participation in these programs can help State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs — more commonly referred to as school districts) meet the goals of ESSA.