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National School Lunch Program

“Ask any teacher and they will tell you that food is a basic school supply – just like books, just like pencils.” - First Lady Frances Wolf

Our greatest resource as Pennsylvanians is our students – they are our future leaders, and we must ensure that we give them the tools they need to succeed, and that includes a healthy lunch. Numerous scientific studies have suggested a strong link between child nutrition and learning, which supports the importance of the availability of school meal programs. If kids don’t have a full stomach, they simply cannot do their best.

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) serves nutritious meals to millions of children nationwide each school day. Pennsylvania served more than 168 million school lunches during the 2018-19 school year. These healthy meals help enhance our children's readiness to learn.

How does it work?
The NSLP is a federal and state reimbursement program for each meal served that meets federal requirements. All NSLP sponsors are required to offer free and reduced-price lunches to eligible children. Reimbursement rates are established annually by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Sponsors are entitled to receive USDA commodities for each lunch they serve. The variety of commodities sponsors may receive depends on product availability and market prices.

Who may participate?
Any public school, intermediate unit, charter school, area vocational technical or career technology school, public residential child care institution, and tax exempt non-public school or residential child care institution may apply to be an NSLP sponsor.

How do children qualify for free or reduced-price lunches?
Children from families with incomes at or below 130% of the poverty level, and children in families receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and children in families receiving food stamp benefits are eligible for free lunches. Children in families whose income is between 130% and 185% of the poverty level are eligible for reduced price lunches.

Access federal income eligibility guidelines for free and reduced-price school meals and free milk for the 2020-21 school year, as released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and effective July 1, 2020.

What are the meal requirements?
To qualify for reimbursement, all NSLP lunches must meet federal nutrition requirements. School lunches must offer foods from the five required components that include whole or enriched grain, fruit, vegetable, meat/meat alternate, and fluid milk. Serving sizes vary based on the grade level of the students. Decisions about the specific foods to serve and the methods of preparation are made by local school food authorities.

How do you apply?
To apply, households receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) need only include the SNAP or TANF case number on their application. Households enrolled in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) may qualify for free or reduced-price school meals and should complete a Household Meal Benefit Application. Other households can find more information on Pennsylvania’s COMPASS website or by contacting their local school or district.