National School Lunch Program
breakfast | lunch | after-school snack
What is the National School Lunch Program?
The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 100,000 public and non-profit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provided nutritionally balanced, low‐cost or free lunches to more than 31 million children each school day in 2012. In 1998, Congress expanded the National School Lunch Program to include reimbursement for snacks served to children in afterschool educational and enrichment programs to include children through 18 years of age. The Food and Nutrition Service administers the program at the federal level. At the state level, the National School Lunch Program is usually administered by State education agencies, which operate the program through agreements with School Food Authorities.
How does the National School Lunch Program work?
Generally, public or non-profit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the school lunch program. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program receive cash subsidies and USDA foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve lunches that meet federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children. School Food Authorities can also be reimbursed for snacks served to children through age 18 in afterschool educational or enrichment programs.
What are the nutritional requirements for school lunches?
School lunches must meet meal pattern and nutrition standards based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The current meal pattern increases the availability of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in the school menu. The meal pattern’s dietary specifications set specific calorie limits to ensure age-appropriate meals for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. Other meal enhancements include gradual reductions in the sodium content of the meals (sodium targets must be reached by SY 2014-15, SY 2017-18 and SY 2022-23). While school lunches must meet federal meal requirements, decisions about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by local School Food Authorities.
How do children qualify for free and reduced price meals?
Any child at a participating school may purchase a meal through the National School Lunch Program. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced‐price meals, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents. Children from families with incomes over 185 percent of poverty pay a full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some extent. Local School Food Authorities set their own prices for full‐price (paid) meals, but must operate their meal services as non‐profit programs. Afterschool snacks are provided to children on the same income eligibility basis as school meals. However, programs that operate in areas where at least 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced‐price meals may serve all their snacks for free.
What types of foods do schools get from USDA?
States select entitlement foods for their schools from a list of various foods purchased by USDA and offered through the school lunch program. Bonus foods are offered only as they become available through agricultural surplus. The variety of both entitlement and bonus USDA foods schools can get from USDA depends on quantities available and market prices. A very successful project between USDA and the Department of Defense (DoD) has helped provide schools with fresh produce purchased through DoD. USDA has also worked with schools to help promote connections with local small farmers who may be able to provide fresh produce.
***Information gathered from www.fns.usda.gov