What is the National School Lunch Program (NSLP)?

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program being operated within public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It allows students and children to receive a well-balanced, nutritional lunch to children each school day at a low-cost or for free. 

This program is operating in over 100,000 public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. IN 2012, there were over 31 million children who received help per NSLP for provided lunches. 

How Does The National School Lunch Program Work?

Generally, public or nonprofit private schools of high school grade and under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions are able to participate in the school lunch program. Participating school districts and independent schools get cash subsidies and USDA foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve.

They are required to 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 meal patterns and nutrition standards based on the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. The selected 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). 

4. How Do Children Qualify for Free and Reduced Price Meals?

Any child at a participating school has the ability to purchase a meal through the National School Lunch Program. Children belonging to families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced‐price meals, with a rule that students can be charged no more than 40 cents.

Children from families with incomes over 185 percent of poverty are required to pay a full price, though their meals are still subsidized to a certain point. Local school food authorities set their own prices for full‐price (paid) meals, however they still must operate their meal services as non‐profit programs. After-school snacks are provided to children on the same income eligibility basis that school meals are. Programs that operate in areas where at least 50 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals may also serve their after-school snacks for free. 

For more about income eligibility requirements, CLICK HERE.

5. How Much Reimbursement Do Schools Get?

Most of the reimbursement amounts that the USDA provides to schools in the National School Lunch Program come in the form of a cash reimbursement for each meal served. School food authorities that are certified to be in compliance with the updated meal requirements are able to receive an additional six cents of federal cash reimbursement for each meal that is served. This bonus will be adjusted for inflation in subsequent years.

For more information on current school reimbursement amounts, visit FNS' site HERE.