National School Lunch Week may be over, but you can still make some noise about the importance of school lunch and community eligibility. the powerful tool that allows high-poverty schools to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students, and eliminates the need for school districts to collect and process school meal applications. Schools that implement community eligibility frequently see participation in school breakfast and lunch programs increase, so more children are getting the nutrition they need to learn throughout the day.
FRAC Releases Summer Nutrition Reports
During the summer, millions of low-income children lose access to the school lunches, breakfasts, and afterschool snacks and meals they receive during regular school year. The Summer Nutrition Programs help fill this gap by providing free meals and snacks to children who might otherwise go hungry. Find more on the reach of these summer meals in FRAC’s Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Reports.
The National School Lunch Program — the nation’s second largest food and nutrition assistance program behind SNAP — makes it possible for all school children in the United States to receive a nutritious lunch every school day. The vast majority of schools — approximately 95 percent — participate in the program, providing meals to more than 30 million children on an average day.
Report: More Low-Income Students Receive Free School Meals in the 2018–2019 School Year Through Community Eligibility
Community Eligibility: The Key to Hunger-Free Schools finds that the number of schools participating in community eligibility grew by 14 percent compared to the 2018–2019 school year, with 64.2 percent of eligible schools participating. Nearly 13.6 million children in 28,492 schools and 4,633 school districts are participating and have access to school breakfast and lunch at no charge.
- Nearly 22 million low-income children participated in the National School Lunch Program on a typical day in the 2017-2018 school year.
- Nearly 96,000 schools participated in the National School Lunch Program in the 2017-2018 school year.
- Any public school, nonprofit private school, or residential child care institution can participate in the program and receive federal funds for each meal served.
- Meals served through the National School Lunch Program meet federal nutrition standards, which require schools to serve more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.
- The program is administered at the federal level by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and in each state typically through the state department of education or agriculture.
- Benefits of School LunchA wide body of research supports the health and educational benefits of participation in the National School Lunch Program. Studies show that participation in school lunch reduces food insecurity, obesity rates, and poor health. Find out more about the benefits of school lunch participation.
- Eligibility and ReimbursementsLow-income children are eligible to receive meals for free or at a reduced price based on their household income or participation in other government programs like SNAP or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Children from moderate to higher-income households pay the school lunch fee set by the school district. Find out more about school meal eligibility and how children are certified for free and reduced-price school meals.
- Community Eligibility ProvisionCommunity eligibility allows high-poverty schools and districts to offer breakfast and lunch at no charge to all students. Schools that use community eligibility have seen increases in participation in school breakfast and school lunch and reduced administrative costs as community eligibility schools no longer have to collect school meals applications. Find out more about the Community Eligibility Provision.
- Unpaid School Meal FeesSchool breakfast and lunch provide students the nutrition they need in order to continue to learn throughout the school day. Students certified for reduced-price meals can be charged a maximum of 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch, and those who are not certified for free or reduced-price school meals, generally are charged the cost of their meal. When students who are not certified for free school meals arrive in the cafeteria without cash in hand or in their school meal account, they can start to accrue school meal debt. School meal debt is a challenge for the majority of school districts — a recent school nutrition report found that 3 in 4 school districts had unpaid school meal debt. For more information on unpaid school meal fees, refer to these FRAC resources:
- Every Student Succeeds ActThe Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) offers important opportunities for anti-hunger advocates to increase participation in the federal nutrition programs, particularly the school, summer, and afterschool nutrition programs. These programs are critical education supports, ensuring that students are well-nourished and able to focus, concentrate, and learn. Increasing student participation in these programs can help State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs — more commonly referred to as school districts) meet the goals of ESSA.