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 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 22 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 the NSLP? #

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Children who receive free or reduced-price school meals under the National School Lunch Program are eligible for Pandemid EBT (P-EBT). P-EBT is a temporary food benefit program for children who have lost access to free or reduced-price school meals due to pandemic-related school closures.

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 $28,500 per year qualifies for free lunches. While children in families earning less than $40,600 per year qualify for reduced lunches, for which students can be charged no more than 40 cents. 3

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.

How do I apply for the National School Lunch Program? #

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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 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 as part of USDA’s Child Nutrition Programs include

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School Breakfast Program (SBP)
A federally-funded program that helps schools provide breakfast to all students.

Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
Through CACFP, more than 3.3 million children and 120,000 adults receive nutritious meals and snacks each day as part of the day care they receive.

Special Milk Program (SMP)
Available to students 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 1969-2020.
  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.