Agricultural Policy Review

Article Title

The School Meals Program


The National School Meals Programs affect the lives of almost all school children in the United States today. The National School Lunch Program, available in 99% of US public schools and 83% of private and public schools combined, serves over 31 million school children on a typical school day—nearly 64% of school-age children. The total federal cost of the School Meals Programs was $14.9 billion in 2012, and most of the funding is provided to school districts through federal reimbursement for free and reduced-price meals, with cash payments for the National School Lunch Program representing about 70% of the total federal funding for the school food programs. Children from households with incomes at or below 130% of poverty can receive a “free” lunch and those from households with incomes between 130% and 185% of poverty can receive a “reduced-price” lunch. During the 2013–2014 school year, the basic cash reimbursement for lunch is set at $2.93 for free lunches, $2.53 for reduced-price lunches, and $0.28 for other qualifying lunches. In addition, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program receive USDA Foods (“entitlement” foods) valued at 22.75 cents in school year 2013 for each lunch served.