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School Lunch Program - Fact Sheets
(from Food Nutrition and Consumer Services)
National School Lunch Program - information reproduced below:

1. What is the National School Lunch Program?

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal
program operating in more than 96,000 public and nonprofit private
schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally
balanced, low-cost or free lunches to nearly 27 million children each
school day. The program was established under the National School
Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, through its Food and Nutrition
Service, administers the program at the Federal level. At the State level,
the NSLP is usually administered by State education agencies, which
operate the program through agreements with local school districts.

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 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

School meals 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.

Schools have the option to choose one of the four standard systems for
their menu planning: Nutrient Standard Menu Planning, Assisted Nutrient
Standard Menu Planning, the traditional meal pattern, and the enhanced
meal pattern. Schools and State agencies may also develop their own
alternate approach to menu planning under guidelines established in the
regulations. Both Nutrient Standard and Assisted Nutrient Standard
Menu Planning systems base their planning on a computerized nutritional
analysis of the week's menu. The traditional and enhanced meal pattern
options base their menu planning on minimum component quantities of
meat or meat alternate; vegetables and fruits; grains and breads; and
milk. An alternate approach would usually modify these approaches.

School lunches must meet Federal nutrition requirements, but decisions
about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made
by local school food authorities. USDA has made a commitment to
improve the nutritional quality of all school meals. The Department
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

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 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, 2000, through June 30,
2001, 130 percent of the poverty level is $22,165 for a family of four;
185 percent is $31,543.)

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 meals, but most
operate their meal services as non-profit programs.

Congress in 1998 expanded reimbursement for snacks served to
children in afterschool educational and enrichment programs to include
children up to 18 years of age. Afterschool snacks are reimbursed on
the same income eligibility basis as school meals. Programs that operate
in areas where at least 50 percent of students are eligible for free or
reduced-price meals and serve all their snacks for free, are reimbursed
at the free rate.

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, 2000 through June 30, 2001) basic
cash reimbursement rates are:

Free meals: $2.02
Reduced-price meals: $1.62
Paid meals: 19 cents
Free snacks: 55 cents
Reduced-price snacks: 27 cents
Paid snacks: 5 cents

Higher reimbursement rates are in effect for Alaska and Hawaii, and for
some schools with high percentages of low-income children.

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 15
cents for each meal served. Schools can also get "bonus" commodities
as they are available from surplus agricultural stocks.

Team Nutrition 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.

7. 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. The list includes fresh, canned and frozen fruits and vegetables;
meats; fruit juices; vegetable shortening; peanut products; vegetable oil;
and flour and other grain products. Specific foods can be found on this
web site at

Bonus foods are offered only as they become available through
agricultural surplus. The variety of both entitlement and bonus
commodities schools can get from USDA depends on quantities
available and market prices.

USDA has placed special emphasis on improving the quality of
commodities donated to the school lunch program, including a great
increase in the amount and variety of fresh produce available to schools.
A very successful project between USDA and the Department of
Defense 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

8. How many children have been served over the years?

The National School Lunch Act in 1946 created the modern school
lunch program, though USDA had provided funds and food to schools
for many years prior to that. In signing the 1946 Act, President Harry S
Truman said, "Nothing is more important in our national life than the
welfare of our children, and proper nourishment comes first in attaining
this welfare."

About 7.1 million children were participating in the National School
Lunch Program by the end of its first year, 1946-47. By 1970, 22
million children were participating, and by 1980 the figure was nearly 27
million. In 1990, an average of 24 million children ate school lunch every
day. In Fiscal Year 1997, more than 26.3 million children each day got
their lunch through the National School Lunch Program. Since the
modern program began, more than 170 billion lunches have been

9. How much does the program cost?

Congress appropriated $5.46 billion for the school lunch program for
Fiscal Year 1999. The 1998 appropriation was $5.13 billion.

By comparison, the lunch program's total cost in 1947 was $70 million;
in 1950, $119.7 million; 1960, $225.8 million; 1970, $565.5 million;
1975, $1.7 billion; 1980, $3.2 billion; 1985, $3.4 billion; and 1990,
$3.7 billion.

For more information:

For more information, contact the USDA Food and Nutrition Service
Public Information Staff at 703-305-2286, or by mail at 3101 Park
Center Drive, Room 912, Alexandria, Virginia 22302. The Food and
Nutrition Service was formerly known as the Food and Consumer

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