The National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) operates in public and private schools, providing nutritionally balanced meals each school day. Federal child nutrition programs like NSLP address child hunger and promote good nutrition. With over 1 in 5 children in the United States living in a food-insecure household,[i] NSLP plays a critical role in the healthy development and long-term health and educational outcomes for low-income children.

Who Qualifies

The National School Lunch Program is an entitlement program that guarantees a set reimbursement for each qualifying meal or snack served.

Low-income children are eligible to receive reduced-price or free meals at school. Children in households with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty level or those receiving SNAP or TANF qualify for free meals. Those with family incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty line qualify for reduced-price meals. When school is out of session in the summertime, children continue to receive nutritious meals and snacks through the Summer Food Service Program.

94% of Feeding America client households with school-aged children engage with the National School Lunch Program.

How NSLP Works

The National School Lunch Program is administered at the federal level by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. At the state level, NSLP is usually administered through state agencies that operate the program through agreements with school authorities.[ii]Schools receive cash reimbursement for each lunch or snack served. Schools also receive USDA commodity food donations for lunches. The NSLP is required to provide one-third of the daily calorie, protein, calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin E needs for participants through foods provided at lunch. A January 2012 USDA study rated the USDA foods provided through NSLP at 77.2 on the Healthy Eating Index (HEI), significantly higher than the HEI score of 55.0 for the average American child’s diet.[iii]

Additional Resources

[i] Coleman-Jensen, A., M. Nord, M. Andrews, and S. Carlson. Household Food Security in the United States in 2010. Table 2. ERR-125, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service. September 2011. 

[ii] U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, National School Lunch Program Fact Sheet, page 1. 

[iii] U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, Nutrient and MyPyramid Analysis of USDA Foods in Five of Its Food and Nutrition Programs, Table 3-39. January 2012.

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