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.

Quick Facts:

  • 21.5 million low-income children participated in the National School Lunch Program on a typical day in the 2014-2015 school year.
  • More than 98,000 schools participated in the National School Lunch Program in the 2014-2015 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 Lunch
    A 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 Reimbursements
    Low-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 Provision
    Community 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.

School Lunch in Your State

To find out the agency that administers the National School Lunch Program in your state, check USDA’s list of state administering agencies.

Find Agencies

CEP Success Story

Green Bay, Wisconsin
Wisconsin’s Green Bay School Board voted unanimously to enroll 14 Green Bay high-poverty schools in the Community Eligibility Provision As a result, more than 5,000 low-income children who attend Green Bay schools will now have access to breakfast and lunch at no cost starting this fall. These schools join more than 381 other high-need schools in 91 districts that are enrolled in community eligibility across the state.
A Victory Against Hunger
Maureen Fitzgerald, Director of Advocacy, Hunger Task Force