Regular meals are important for everyone, especially children. When children have healthy meals, they learn good lifelong eating habits. They also are better prepared to learn and have more focus at home and at school.
Since school lunch may be a strain on a family’s budget, there are programs that help with the cost. Depending on your family’s needs, your children may be able to get either free or low-cost lunches through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
What is the National School Lunch Program?
The National School Lunch Program gives healthy low-cost or free lunches to children each school day. It doesn’t matter if your child goes to a public or private school, they can get help if they’re eligible.
How to see if your child qualifies
There are a couple of ways to check. Children in households with incomes below 130 percent of the poverty level can get free meals. Families with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the poverty line can get low-cost lunches. You can see if you meet the income eligibility guidelines for the current school year here.
Remember, the guidelines change every year, so it’s important to check before the start of each school year. They are effective from July 1 through June 30.
Your child may also be eligible through federal assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
Getting help with SNAP
Children can get school lunches through SNAP based on their status as:
- A migrant
- A runaway
- Foster child
You can use this tool to see if your family can get help through SNAP. Before you start, you will need to have the following info on-hand:
- How much money you earn (paycheck)
- Rent or house payments
- Utility bills
- Child support
- Day care costs
- Medical bills (only if you are 60 or older, or disabled)
- Child support payments or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
- Social security or VA payments
SNAP can also help your family buy healthy food like:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Meat, poultry and fish
- Dairy products
- Breads and cereals
- Other foods such as snack foods and non-alcoholic beverages
- Seeds and plants
How to apply
You can apply for the National School Lunch Program at any time. You do not need to do it before the start of the school year.
The easiest way to apply is to fill out the application and turn it in to your child’s school or district. Your child’s school can help you fill out the application.
Or you can download a copy from the National School Lunch Program website. The forms and instructions are under the Resources for Households section.
If you need more help finding food, visit Feeding America. Their online tool will help you find a food bank near your ZIP code.
If you need immediate help, call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) or 1-877-8-HAMBRE (1-877-842-6273) in Spanish, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Eastern time.