School meal programs provide low-income families with free or low-cost meals for children both throughout the school year and during the summer. The programs include breakfasts, lunches, snacks, and summer meals for children all over the United States. These programs allow parents the option to feed their children healthy, affordable meals, regardless of their socioeconomic status. But these programs are available for any busy parent and can be worth paying for even if the parents do not qualify for the free or low-cost meals, as these meals provide children with fresh fruits and vegetables, proteins, and other nutritious food.
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is served at approximately 95 percent of public and nonprofit private schools in grades K-12 throughout the United States. Any student at one of these schools is able to obtain these lunches, and certain students are eligible to receive them for free or at a reduced price. For example, children from families at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals, and those from families with incomes between 130 percent and 185 percent of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-priced meals.
Schools send out the applications at the start of the school year, but you are able to fill one out any time throughout the school year as your income and employment status change. If you receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, all of your children automatically qualify for free school meals. If you are unemployed, your children might also be eligible for free or low-cost meals, depending on the circumstances. Talk to your school district, as it will have information on who is eligible for free and reduced-cost school meal programs.
In addition to school lunches, NSLP also offers discounted or free breakfasts and snacks. Many school districts also participate in the School Breakfast Program (SBP), which is subsidized by the federal government. In fact, more than 90 percent of schools that offer school lunch programs also offer some sort of school breakfast program for students. The School Breakfast Program works in a similar way to the School Lunch Program where low-income children can receive the meal free or at a reduced cost.
In addition to these programs, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) has been expanding to offer children healthy meals during their summer vacation. The federal government has a list of resources for each state at the Food and Nutrition Service where you can find out not only where there are summer meal programs, but also all the student meal programs that are offered throughout the state in the different counties.
These programs are beneficial, as they allow children to obtain nutritious meals, often for free or at a reduced price. The federal government has regulations that the meals contain certain amounts of calories for given age groups, provide a wide availability of fruits and vegetables, and contain other nutritional benefits. And studies have shown that these programs have helped reduce both childhood hunger and obesity by offering daily nutritious meals for children whose families might otherwise not be able to afford healthy food. These programs also save time for the parents as they do not have to spend time shopping for and preparing a healthy breakfast, lunch, and snack on a daily basis.
By Meagan Devlin