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National School Lunch Policy

1. What is the National School Lunch Program?  

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in over 100,000 public and non-profit private schools and residential childcare institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to more than 29 million children each school day. In 1998, Congress expanded the National School Lunch Program to include reimbursement for snacks served to children in after school 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.

2. How does the National School Lunch Program work? 
Generally, public or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the school lunch program. 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.

3. What are the nutritional requirements for school lunches? 
 School lunches must meet the applicable recommendations of 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.

4. 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 through June 30, 130 percent of the poverty level is $29,000 for a family of four: 185 percent is $39,000).
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.

5. How much reimbursement do schools get? 
Most of the support USDA provides to schools in the National School Lunch Program comes in the form of a cash reimbursement for each meal served. The current (July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010) basic cash reimbursement rates are:

Free lunches:$2.68Free breakfast:$1.46
Reduced-price lunches:$2.28Reduced-price breakfast:$1.16
Paid lunches:$0.25Paid breakfast:$0.26

Higher reimbursement rates are in effect for Alaska and Hawaii, and for some schools with high percentages of low-income children.

6. 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 .17 cents for each meal served in a Fiscal Year. Schools can also get "bonus" commodities as they are available from surplus agricultural stocks. 
Through Team Nutrition USDA provides schools with technical training and assistance to help school food service staffs prepare healthful meals, and with nutrition education to help children understand the link between diet and health.

7. 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.

8. 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, over 24 million children ate school lunch every day. In Fiscal Year 2005, more than 29.6 million children each day got their lunch through the National School Lunch Program. Since the modern program began, more than 187 billion lunches have been served.

9. How much does the program cost? 
The National School Lunch Program cost $7.9 billion in FY 2005. 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.

For more information: 
For information on the operation of the National School Lunch Program and all the Child Nutrition Programs, contact the State agency in your state that is responsible for the administration of the programs. A listing of all our State agencies may be found on our web site at www.fns.usda.gov/cnd, select “Contact Us”, then select “Child Nutrition – School Meal Programs”

You may also contact us through the office of USDA, Food and Nutrition Service, Public Information Staff at 703-305-2286, or by mail at 3101 Park Center Drive, Room 914, Alexandria, Virginia 22302.

School Breakfast Program


1. What is the School Breakfast Program?
The School Breakfast Program is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It began as a pilot project in 1966, and was made permanent in 1975.

The School Breakfast Program is administered at the Federal level by the Food and Nutrition Service. At the State level, the program is usually administered by State education agencies, which operate the program through agreements with local school food authorities in more than 78,000 schools and institutions.

2. How does the School Breakfast Program work?
The School Breakfast Program operates in the same manner as the National School Lunch Program. Generally, public or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions may participate in the School Breakfast Program. School districts and independent schools that choose to take part in the breakfast program receive cash subsidies from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each meal they serve. In return, they must serve breakfasts that meet Federal requirements, and they must offer free or reduced price breakfasts to eligible children.

3. What are the nutritional requirements for school breakfasts?
School breakfasts must meet the applicable recommendations of 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. In addition, breakfasts must provide one-fourth of the Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein, calcium, iron, Vitamin A, Vitamin C and calories. The decisions about what specific food to serve and how they are prepared are made by local school food authorities.

4. How do children qualify for free and reduced price breakfasts?
Any child at a participating school may purchase a meal through the School Breakfast Program. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the Federal 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 the period July 1, 2003, through June 30, 2004, 130 percent of the poverty level is $23,920 for a family of four; 185 percent is $34,040.) Children from families over 185 percent of poverty pay full price, though their meals are still subsidized to some extent.

5. How much reimbursement do schools get?
Most of the support USDA provides to schools in the School Breakfast Program comes in the form of a cash reimbursement for each breakfast served. The current (July 1, 2009 through June 30, 2010) basic cash reimbursement rates are:

Free breakfasts$1.46
Reduced-price breakfasts$1.16
Paid breakfasts$0.26

 

Schools may qualify for higher "severe need" reimbursements if a specified percentage of their lunches are served free or at a reduced price. Severe need payments are up to 23 cents higher than the normal reimbursements for free and reduced-price breakfasts. About 65 percent of the breakfasts served in the School Breakfast Program receive severe need payments.

Higher reimbursement rates are in effect for Alaska and Hawaii. Schools may charge no more than 30 cents for a reduced-price breakfast. Schools set their own prices for breakfasts served to students who pay the ull meal price (paid), though they must operate their meal services as non-profit programs.

6. What other support do schools get from USDA?
Through Team Nutrition, USDA 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.

7. How many children have been served over the years?
In Fiscal Year 2001, an average of 7.8 million children participated every day. That number grew to 8.2 million in Fiscal Year 2002. Of those, 6.7 million received their meals free or at a reduced-price.

Participation has slowly but steadily grown over the years: 1970: 0.5 million children; 1975: 1.8 million children; 1980: 3.6 million children; 1985: 3.4 million children; 1990: 4.1 million children; 1995: 6.3 million children.

8. How much does the program cost?
For Fiscal Year 2003, Congress appropriated $1.68 billion for the School Breakfast Program, up from $1.54 billion in Fiscal Year 2002.

The cost in previous years: 1970: cost of $ 10.8 million: 1975: cost of $ 86.1 million; 1980: cost of $287.8 million; 1985: cost of $379.3 million; 1990: cost of $ 596.2 million; 1995: cost of $1.05 billion.

For more information:
For information on the operation of the School Breakfast Program and all the Child Nutrition Programs, contact the State agency in your state that is responsible for the administration of the programs. A listing of all our State agencies may be found on our web site at www.fns.usda.gov/cnd , select "Contacts".

You may also contact us through the office of USDA, Food and Nutrition Service, Public Information Staff at 703-305-2286, or by mail at 3101 Park Center Drive, Room 914, Alexandria, Virginia 22302.

Special Milk Program


1. What is the Special Milk Program? 
The Special Milk Program provides milk to children in schools, childcare institutions and eligible camps that do not participate in other Federal child nutrition meal service programs. The program reimburses schools and institutions for the milk they serve. In 2005, 5,375 schools and residential childcare institutions participated, along with 1,011 summer camps and 642 non-residential childcare institutions.

Schools in the National School Lunch or School Breakfast Programs may also participate in the Special Milk Program to provide milk to children in half-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs where children do not have access to the school meal programs.

The Food and Nutrition Service administers the program at the Federal level. At the State level, the Special Milk Program is usually administered by State education agencies, which operate the program through agreements with school food authorities.

2. How does the Special Milk Program work? 
Generally, public or nonprofit private schools of high school grade or under and public or nonprofit private residential child care institutions and eligible camps may participate in the Special Milk Program provided they do not participate in other Federal child nutrition meal service programs, except as noted above. Participating schools and institutions receive reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for each half pint of milk served. They must operate their milk programs on a non-profit basis. They agree to use the Federal reimbursement to reduce the selling price of milk to all children.

Any child at a participating school or half-day pre-kindergarten program can get milk through the Special Milk Program. Children may buy milk or receive it free, depending on the school’s choice of program options.

3. What types of milk can be offered and what are the nutritional requirements for the milk program? 
Schools or institutions may choose pasteurized fluid types of unflavored or flavored whole milk, low-fat milk, skim milk, and cultured buttermilk that meet State and local standards. All milk should contain vitamins A and D at levels specified by the Food and Drug Administration.

4. How do children qualify for free milk? 
When local school officials offer free milk under the program to low-income children, any child from a family that meets income guidelines for free meals is eligible. Each child’s family must apply annually for free milk eligibility.

5. How much reimbursement do schools get? 
The Federal reimbursement for each half-pint of milk sold to children in school year 2006-2007 is 0.145 cents. For children who receive their milk free, the USDA reimburses schools the net purchase price of the milk.

6. How much milk is served annually in the Special Milk Program? 
In 2005, over 100 million half-pints of milk were served through the Special Milk Program. Expansion of the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs, which include milk, has led to a substantial reduction in the Special Milk Program since its peak in the late 1960′s. The program served nearly 3 billion half pints of milk in 1969; 1.8 billion in 1980; and 181 million in 1990.

7. How much does the program cost? 
In fiscal year 2005 the Special Milk Program cost $16.6 million. By comparison, the program cost $101.2 million in 1970; $145.2 million in 1980; and $19.1 million in 1990.

For more information: 
For information on the operation of the Special Milk Program and all the Child Nutrition Programs, contact the State agency in your state that is responsible for the administration of the programs. A listing of all our State agencies may also be found on our web site at www.fns.usda.gov/cnd, select “Contact Us”, and then select “Child Nutrition – School Meal Programs”.

You may also contact us through the office of USDA, Food and Nutrition Service, Public Information Staff at 703-305-2286, or by mail at 3101 Park Center Drive, Room 914, Alexandria, Virginia 22302.

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