Free Lunch for Kids

Free Lunch for Kids

FAQs about the National School Lunch Program

What does "Free Lunch" mean for you and your children? Even though the program currently assists parents and kids nationwide, many Solo Moms are hesitant to ask. Here’s the low down on the National School Lunch Program, an essential program for many families.

What is “free lunch”?

The National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted program that provides free or reduced-price lunches to eligible children in public or private schools. In 2012, the program provided 31 million children with low-cost or free lunches.

Who’s eligible?

Children from families with incomes up to 30% above the poverty level are eligible for free lunch. Children from families with incomes up to 85% above the poverty level are eligible for reduced lunch. Refer to the chart below to see if you are eligible.

Number of persons in household

Total annual income for free-lunch eligibility

Total annual income for reduced-lunch eligibility










(The chart was updated in 2015 for states in the continental United States.)

How do I apply?

If you think you and your children qualify, contact your child’s school district and ask for an application for the free-lunch program. It’s best to contact the district during the summer to get your application approved before the school year starts, but you can fill out an application at any point during the school year.

Can my child eat breakfast at school?

If your child is eligible for either a free or reduced lunch, he or she also may be able to receive a free or reduced breakfast at school through the School Breakfast Program. Not all districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program participate in the School Breakfast Program, but many do. Call your district to find out.

What about after-school activities?

Congress recently expanded the program to reimburse schools that provide snacks to eligible children in after-school or enrichment programs.

Is there any assistance during the summer months?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers a Summer Food Service Program that allows sponsors to provide eligible children with nutritious meals during long vacation periods from school. This program differs from the National School Lunch Program in that many of the sponsors of this program can be day camps, private nonprofits, government agencies, as well as local school districts. Call your district first, and ask if it participates in a summer meal program. If it doesn’t, your district may know of a local organization that does. If you are having difficulty finding a local site, call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY (1-866-348-6479) and ask for the nearest location.

Photo credit:

Julia Liu is the daughter of a Solo Mom and has a degree in professional communication. She is the mom to two sons. She has worked in early-childhood education and was the director of a nonprofit private preschool for many years. You can follow her on Twitter at @notaDNB1.

Please feel free to contact us with any comments or questions.

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