The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.Jun 13, 2017
A student from a household with an income at or below 130 percent of the poverty income threshold is eligible for free lunch. A student from a household with an income between 130 percent and up to 185 percent of the poverty threshold is eligible for reduced price lunch.Apr 16, 2015
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 after school educational or enrichment programs.
NATIONAL SCHOOL LUNCH
1. 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.
2. How does the National School Lunch Program work?
Generally, public or nonprofit 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 get 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.
3. What are the nutritional requirements for school lunches?
School lunchs 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.
4. 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. (For the period July 1, 2013, through June 30, 2014, 130 percent of the poverty level is
$30,615 for a family of four; 185 percent is $43,568 .)
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.
5. How much reimbursement do schools get?
Most of the support USDA provides to schools in the National School Lunch Program comes in
the form of a cash reimbursement for each meal served. The current (July 1, 2014 through June
30, 2015) basic cash reimbursement rates if school food authorities served less than 60% free and
reduced price lunches during the second preceding school year are:
Free lunches: Reduced-price lunches: Paid lunches:
$2.93 $2.53 $0.28
Free snacks: Reduced-price snacks: Paid snacks:
$0.80 $0.40 $0.07
School food authorities that are certified to be in compliance with the updated meal requirements
will receive an additional six cents of federal cash reimbursement for each meal served. This
bonus will be adjusted for inflation in subsequent years. These above rates exclude the additional
six cents. Higher reimbursement rates are also in effect for Alaska and Hawaii, and for schools
with high percentages of low‐income students.
For the latest reimbursement rates visit FNS website at