National School Lunch Program

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that provides free and reduced-cost lunches to eligible schoolchildren nationwide. The program is operated in over 100,000 public and non-profit private schools and residential child care facilities and provides nutritionally balanced lunches to more than 31 million children each day.

Any child at a participating school can purchase a meal through the program. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with household incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals, which will not cost the child more than 40 cents. For the period of July 1, 2015 through June 30, 2016, 130 percent of the poverty level is $31,525 for a family of four; 185 percent is $44,863.

The lunches that are served in the schools must meet 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 require school lunches to provide one-third of the Recommended Daily Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories.