National School Lunch Program
1. What is the National School Lunch Program?
The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in more than 101,000 public and non-profit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to more than 30.5 million children each school day. In 1998, Congress expanded the National School Lunch Program to include reimbursement for snacks served to children in after school 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?
School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the lunch program get cash subsidies and donated commodities 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 after school educational or enrichment programs.
3. What are the nutritional requirements for school lunches?
School lunches must meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that no more than 30 percent of an individual's calories come from fat, and less than 10 percent from saturated fat. Regulations also establish a standard for school lunches to provide one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories.
School lunches must meet Federal nutrition requirements. Local school food authorities make decisions about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared. USDA works with State agencies and local school food authorities through the Team Nutrition initiative to teach and motivate children to make healthy food choices, and to provide school food service staff with training and technical support.
4. How do children qualify for free and reduced-price meal?
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, 2008, through June 30, 2009, 130 percent of the poverty level is $27,560 for a family of four; 185 percent is $39,220.)
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.
All free and reduced lunch information is kept absolutely confidential. If you need an application please call us at 390-3380 and we will mail one to you.
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, 2008 through June 30, 2009) basic cash reimbursement rates are:
Free lunches: $2.57
Reduced-price lunches: $2.17
Paid lunches: $0.24
6. What other support do schools get from USDA?
In addition to cash reimbursements, schools are entitled by law to receive commodity foods, called "entitlement" foods, at a value of 20.75 cents for each meal served. Schools can also get "bonus" commodities, as they are available from surplus agricultural stocks.
Team Nutrition USDA also provides schools with technical training and assistance to help school food service staffs prepare healthy meals, and with nutrition education to help children understand the link between diet and health.