National School Lunch Program Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the National School Lunch Program?

    The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in more than 97,700 public and non-profit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to more than 27 million children each school day. In 1998, Congress expanded the National School Lunch Program to include reimbursement for snacks served to children in afterschool 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.

  • 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.
  • 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, but decisions about what specific foods to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities. 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.

  • How do children qualify for free and reduced-price meals?

    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, 2007, through June 30, 2008, 130 percent of the poverty level is $26,845 for a family of four; 185 percent is $38,203.)

    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.

    Afterschool snacks are provided to children on the same income eligibility basis as school meals. However, programs that operate in areas where at least 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals may serve all their snacks for free.

  • 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 15.5 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.

  • 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. 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.

    A very successful project between USDA and the Department of Defense (DoD) 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 produce.

  • 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. 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 2000, more than 27.4 million children each day got their lunch through the National School Lunch Program. Since the modern program began, more than 180 billion lunches have been served.
  • How much does the program cost?

    The National School Lunch Program cost $5.56 billion in FY 2000.

    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.

  • How do you code procurement fees for the Statewide Purchasing program?

    Please discuss all coding entries with your district Business Manager.  We would suggest coding within: 2110-900-2330-340-349 
  • May CNP pay for the expense of existing grease traps?

    Yes.  The grease trap is necessary to the operation of CNP.     (Source OMB 796, Revision 2)
  • When the site doesn't meet 50% Free/Reduced but all the enrollees for the After School Snack program have current meal applications approved for free meals, may these students receive this snacks?

    Yes.  (Source 7 CFR 210)
  • Which month's report of Free/Reduced eligibilities is used for snack sites?

    October - Most current  (Source 7 CFR 210)
  • I sent our list of those families (with food stamps), who had been pulled for verification. The Food Stamp office will not release this information, what do I do?

    Give these parents the form, to take to their case worker and have the case worker complete the form.  Then the parent can turn in the completed form to the SFS administrator.  (Source USDA Guidelines - Eligibility Guidance for School Meals)
  • Can Free and Reduce Priced Meal Applications capture income as whole dollar amounts or must it capture cents?

    Free and Reduce Priced Meal Applications must collect the actual income received. To accurately capture income amounts, the meal application should capture cents and not just whole dollar amounts. This question was raised in regard to scanning meal applications. Some software applications used to scan meal applications generate the meal application to be used and only capture whole dollar amounts. Most of the new scanning software will capture cents but may give the option of defaulting cents to ".00". USDA has addressed this question under Memo Code SP 04-2007 which can be located under our Policy and Procedures section.
  • Can a school district purchase backup generators for use with refrigerators, coolers and freezers in anticipation of power outages, such as during a hurricane?

    USDA has stated that in situations in which there is a history of storms, such as a hurricane, in which power is not available for an extended period of time and frozen food supplies have been lost, that the purchase of a backup generator for use during power outages would be an allowable expenditure. The following procedure and restrictions must be followed when purchasing a backup generator:

    1. Submit a letter or request to the State Agency addressing the need for the generator.
    2. The generator is to be used exclusively by Food Service.
    3. The generator is not to be used for general purposes, but only as a backup for refrigeration equipment.
    4. The generator is to be added to the district's list of equipment allocated to the Food Service Department for accountability and to track its location.

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