National School Lunch Program Information

What is the National School Lunch Program? 

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the National School Lunch Act, signed by President Harry Truman in 1946.

How do children qualify for free and reduced price meals?

Eligibility determinations for free and reduced priced meals are based on Nutrition Services' review of self-reported income and household size information or self-reporting of a Food Stamp Program / Temporary Assistance for Needy Families / Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FS/TANF/FDPIR) case number. Most initial determinations are made within the first several weeks of each school year, though applications may be submitted at any time during the school year.

Nutrition Services makes a second eligibility determination for a small sample of applications between the time of initial application and December 15 of each school year and this is known as the verification process and is a compliance requirement of the National School Lunch Program. The verification process was established in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in the early 1980s to serve as a deterrent with respect to household misreporting eligibility information.

For more information:

For information on the operation of the National School Lunch Program, visit the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) website at