National Free School Lunch Program

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the nation's second largest food and nutrition assistance that guarantees kids can eat a healthy lunch while they are at school.

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally-subsidized meal program that provides free or discounted school lunches to eligible children from families with incomes that fall below certain “poverty guidelines”.

It serves wholesome, nutritionally balanced meals — including lunch, breakfast, and even after-school snacks (where available) to more than 30 million children each school day. 1

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 free school lunch program? #

Children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with incomes between 130% and 185% of the poverty level are eligible for reduced‐price meals. 2

For example, a single mother of two earning less than $32,320 per year qualifies for free lunches. While children in families earning less than $45,990 per year qualify for reduced lunches, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents. 3

48 Contiguous States 130% 185%
1 $18,950 $26,970
2 $25,640 $36,480
3 $32,320 $45,990
4 $39,000 $55,500
5 $45,680 $65,010
6 $52,360 $74,520
7 $59,050 $84,030
8 $65,730 $93,540

* Income limits are higher in Alaska and Hawaii due to the higher cost of living.

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

Is California the first state to offer free meals at school for kids?

California is the first state in the country to offer all public school students to eat breakfast and lunch for free regardless of income status.

States that have made school meals free to all students.

Six states have now passed laws to provide universal school meals permanently. No state offered such benefit prior to the 2022-23 school year.

  1. California
  2. Colorado
  3. Maine
  4. Minnesota
  5. New Mexico
  6. Vermont

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Rhode Island and South Carolina have similar bills pending.

How do I apply for free 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 and 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 the status of your application. If you’re deemed 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 as part of USDA’s Child Nutrition Programs include:

School Breakfast Program (SBP)
A federally-funded program that helps schools provide free and low-cost nourishing breakfasts to millions of children each school day.

Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
CACFP subsidizes healthy meals and snacks in participating childcare centers, daycare homes, and
adult daycare facilities.

Special Milk Program (SMP)
Available to students in pre-kindergarten through grade twelve who do not have access to the lunch or breakfast programs.

Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
SFSP was established to ensure that low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP)
Another federally assisted program that provides free fresh fruits and vegetables to students in participating elementary schools during the school day.


  1. USDA. National School Lunch – Participation and Meals Served: FY 1969-2022.
  2. USDA. Income Eligibility Guidelines (IEGs) — used in determining eligibility for free and reduced price meals or free milk.
  3. A lunch is priced at 40 cents or less, an after-school snack priced at 15 cents or less or a breakfast priced at 30 cents or less.
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