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.

How did participation in school breakfast and lunch change pre-pandemic and during the pandemic?

FRAC’s 2022 School Breakfast and School Lunch Report found student participation in school breakfast and lunch dropped dramatically across the country when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and school nutrition programs are still recovering.

As the country approaches the second anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, school meals are at a critical crossroads. Now is the time to consider the role that
these programs have played — and should play — in supporting children’s health and well-being moving forward, and ensure they not only regain lost ground but also grow to fully meet children’s nutritional needs.

Read the Report

National School Lunch Week

National School Lunch Week (NSLW) is a weeklong celebration from October 11-15, 2021 of the federal National School Lunch Program, which provides low-income children with a nutritious meal each school day.

Explore the Lunch Menu

Take a Fresh Look at Community Eligibility for 2020-2021

The Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) allows more than 30,000 high-poverty schools across the country to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students while eliminating the traditional school meal application process. As COVID-19 impacts millions nationwide, more students than ever will need access to free school meals.

Read the letter

New Research Brief Shows That School Breakfast and Lunch Programs Continue to Have Multiple Positive Effects on Students’ Health, Learning, and Well-Being

School Meals are Essential for Student Health and Learning reviews the many benefits of the school meals programs, and summarizes the latest research on recent policy changes and innovative strategies that are increasing program access and improving student outcomes.

Read the brief

New Report Highlights the Need for a National Approach to End School Meals Debt

Unpaid School Meal Fees: A Review of 50 Districts’ Policies highlights the varying practices included in districts’ unpaid meals policies, and provides a roadmap for Congress to develop a national policy.

Read the report

Quick Facts:

  • Nearly 22 million low-income children participated in the National School Lunch Program on a typical day in the 2017-2018 school year.
  • Nearly 97,000 schools participated in the National School Lunch Program in the 2017-2018 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.

Reducing Barriers to Consuming School Meals

Too many students miss out on the important benefits of school lunch when barriers exist that prevent students from consuming all of their meal. This report includes best practices for school districts to maximize student participation and consumption in school meals.

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More Low-Income Students Receive Free School Meals in the 2018–2019 School Year Through Community Eligibility

Community Eligibility: The Key to Hunger-Free Schools finds that the number of schools participating in community eligibility grew by 14 percent compared to the 2018–2019 school year, with 64.2 percent of eligible schools participating. Nearly 13.6 million children in 28,492 schools and 4,633 school districts are participating and have access to school breakfast and lunch at no charge.

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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