Free School Meals for Children: What are the food programs available?

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There are two programs that provide meals at either reduced prices or for free across the United States, those being the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program.

Even over the summer break, the Summer Food Service Program provides free breakfast and lunch, while children who attend schools without meal programs may be given milk.

The National School Lunch Program

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) operates in almost 100,000 public and nonprofit private schools (grades Pre-Kindergarten-12) and residential child care facilities, offering low-cost or free lunches to children. Before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in the financial year (FY) 2019, the program served 4.9 billion lunches for a total of 14.2 billion dollars.

The NSLP is managed by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which also pays participating schools and residential child care facilities for the meals they provide to pupils. Any pupil at a participating school is eligible to receive an NSLP meal. Students from these families will be eligible:

  • Free lunches are available to those who fall within 130 percent of the federal poverty threshold.
  • A reduced-price lunch can be obtained by anyone making between 130 and 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • A low-cost, full-price meal is available to anyone who makes more than 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold.

The School Breakfast Program

The School Breakfast Program (SBP) normally operates in over 90,000 public and nonprofit private schools (grades Pre-Kindergarten-12) and residential child care facilities, offering low-cost or free breakfasts to children. Before the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, in fiscal year (FY) 2019, the program served 2.5 billion meals for a total of 4.5 billion dollars.

The SBP is administered by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), which also pays participating schools and residential child care facilities for the meals they provide to kids. Any pupil at a participating school is eligible to receive an SBP breakfast. Students from these families will be eligible:

  • You can get a free breakfast if your income is at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty level.
  • Breakfast can be had for a discounted price if you fall between 130 and 185 percent below the federal poverty level.
  • A low-cost, full-price breakfast is available to anyone who makes more than 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold.

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