1. What is the National School Lunch Program?
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted
program operating in more than 96,000 public and nonprofit private
schools and residential child care institutions. It provides
balanced, low-cost or free lunches to nearly 27 million children
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
the NSLP is usually administered by State education agencies,
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
U.S. Department of Agriculture for each meal they serve. In
must serve lunches that meet Federal requirements, and they
free or reduced-price lunches to eligible children. School food
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,
recommend that no more than 30 percent of an individual's calories
come from fat, and less than 10 percent from saturated fat.
also establish a standard for school lunches to provide one-third
Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin
iron, calcium, and calories.
Schools have the option to choose one of the four standard systems
their menu planning: Nutrient Standard Menu Planning, Assisted
Standard Menu Planning, the traditional meal pattern, and the
meal pattern. Schools and State agencies may also develop their
alternate approach to menu planning under guidelines established
regulations. Both Nutrient Standard and Assisted Nutrient Standard
Menu Planning systems base their planning on a computerized
analysis of the week's menu. The traditional and enhanced meal
options base their menu planning on minimum component quantities
meat or meat alternate; vegetables and fruits; grains and breads;
milk. An alternate approach would usually modify these approaches.
School lunches must meet Federal nutrition requirements, but
about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared
by local school food authorities. USDA has made a commitment
improve the nutritional quality of all school meals. The Department
works with State agencies and local school food authorities
Team Nutrition initiative to teach and motivate children to
food choices, and to provide school food service staff with
4. How do children qualify for free and reduced-price
Any child at a participating school may purchase a meal through
National School Lunch Program. Children from families with incomes
or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free
Those between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level
eligible for reduced-price meals, for which students can be
more than 40 cents. (For the period July 1, 2000, through June
2001, 130 percent of the poverty level is $22,165 for a family
185 percent is $31,543.)
Children from families with incomes over 185 percent of poverty
full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some
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
children up to 18 years of age. Afterschool snacks are reimbursed
the same income eligibility basis as school meals. Programs
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
at the free rate.
5. How much reimbursement do schools get?
Most of the support USDA provides to schools in the National
Lunch Program comes in the form of a cash reimbursement for
meal served. The current (July 1, 2000 through June 30, 2001)
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,
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
receive commodity foods, called "entitlement" foods,
at a value of 15
cents for each meal served. Schools can also get "bonus"
as they are available from surplus agricultural stocks.
Team Nutrition also provides schools with technical training
assistance to help school food service staffs prepare healthy
with nutrition education to help children understand the link
7. What types of foods do schools get from USDA?
States select entitlement foods for their schools from a list
foods purchased by USDA and offered through the school lunch
program. The list includes fresh, canned and frozen fruits and
meats; fruit juices; vegetable shortening; peanut products;
and flour and other grain products. Specific foods can be found
web site at http://www.fns.usda.gov/fdd
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
increase in the amount and variety of fresh produce available
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
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
Truman said, "Nothing is more important in our national
life than the
welfare of our children, and proper nourishment comes first
About 7.1 million children were participating in the National
Lunch Program by the end of its first year, 1946-47. By 1970,
million children were participating, and by 1980 the figure
was nearly 27
million. In 1990, an average of 24 million children ate school
day. In Fiscal Year 1997, more than 26.3 million children each
their lunch through the National School Lunch Program. Since
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
Fiscal Year 1999. The 1998 appropriation was $5.13 billion.
By comparison, the lunch program's total cost in 1947 was $70
in 1950, $119.7 million; 1960, $225.8 million; 1970, $565.5
1975, $1.7 billion; 1980, $3.2 billion; 1985, $3.4 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
Center Drive, Room 912, Alexandria, Virginia 22302. The Food
Nutrition Service was formerly known as the Food and Consumer