the National Free School Lunch Program

Last updated: December 3, 2012 by Dawn


The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally-subsidized meal program that provides free or discounted school lunches1 to eligible children whose family income falls below certain “poverty guidelines”.

It serves wholesome, nutritionally balanced meals – including lunch, breakfast, and even after-school snacks (where available) to more than 31 million children each school day.

For single mothers struggling to put enough food on the table, this program guarantees that their kids can eat a healthy lunch while they are at school.

Do My Kids Qualify for the NSLP?

Your children may be eligible for the free or reduced school lunch program if you meet the federal income eligibility guidelines2.

For example, in the 2012-2013 school year:

A family of two earning less than

$27,991 per year qualified for reduced lunches
$19,669 per year qualified for free lunches

A family of three earning less than

$35,317 per year qualified for reduced lunches
$24,817 per year qualified for free lunches

A family of four earning less than

$42,643 per year qualified for reduced lunches
$29,965 per year qualified for free lunches

If your household already receives Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, your child automatically qualifies for free lunch program. In addition, your children may be eligible if you are currently receiving unemployment benefits.

If you are the guardian of foster children, the children in your care automatically qualify for the free program.

How Do I Apply for the National School Lunch Program?

If you are earning at or below current Income Eligibility Guidelines, all you need to do is to contact your child’s school & request an application. Look out specifically at the beginning of the year when schools pass out these forms.

Upon submission, the school will process your application and let you know of your status. If you’re eligible, your will receive instructions on how much you need to pay (if any) as well as what meals you child qualify for.

Other federally assisted meal programs include

  1. the Special Milk Program (SMP),
  2. School Breakfast Program (SBP),
  3. the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), or
  4. Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

  1. A lunch is priced at 40 cents or less, an afterschool snack priced at 15 cents or less or a breakfast priced at 30 cents or less. []
  2. USDA. Income Eligibility Guidelines (IEGs), to be used in determining eligibility for free and reduced price meals or free milk []

the National Free School Lunch Program
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