The National School Lunch Program provides children from low-income families access to wholesome, nutritious meals—including lunch, breakfast, and even after-school snacks (where available), at a free or reduced rate. It is available at both public and private schools and child care institutions. The program currently operates in more than 100,000 schools nationwide and provides meals for more than 30 million children daily throughout the school year.
Reduced price lunches have their price limited to no more than 40 cents, making this an appealing option even if your family does not qualify for free lunches.
The program is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. Schools receive reimbursement and USDA foods when they participate in the program. The meals served must meet federal nutritional standards and requirements.
Do My Kids Qualify for the National Free School Lunch Program?
Your children may be eligible for the free or reduced school lunch program if you meet the federal income eligibility guidelines. These are adjusted yearly as part of the National School Lunch Act. The yearly levels are effective from July 1 through June 30.
For example, in the 2017-2018 school year:
A family of two earning less than:
- $30,044 per year qualified for reduced lunches
- $21,112 per year qualified for free lunches
A family of three earning less than:
- $37,777 per year qualified for reduced lunches
- $26,546 per year qualified for free lunches
A family of four earning less than:
- $45,510 per year qualified for reduced lunches
- $31,980 per year qualified for free lunches
The income level is gross income only, which is your income before taxes and any deductions that are taken from your paycheck.
If you are self-employed, you report your net income. You will need to report the income of all adult members of your household who are living with you. You will need to report income from public assistance, child support, and alimony as well.
Additional Eligibility Information
Families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or children enrolled in a federally-funded Head Start program, are automatically eligible for the national free lunch program. In addition, your children may be eligible if you are currently receiving unemployment benefits. Some children are eligible due to having a status as a homeless, migrant, runaway, or foster child.
How Do I Apply for the National School Lunch Program?
Your child's school district will send home an application form at the beginning of the school year. All you need to do is complete the form and return it to the school. In addition, if you need to apply for free or reduced lunches at any other time during the school year, all you need to is contact your child's school and request an application. You can not be denied simply because you didn't fill out the form in September.
Applying for Free or Reduced Price School Meals. United States of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. https://www.fns.usda.gov/school-meals/applying-free-and-reduced-price-school-meals.
National School Lunch Program. United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/lunch/AboutLunch/NSLPFactSheet.pdf.