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School Meals

School meals are a healthy source of food for millions of kids

School meals prevent hunger and provide nutrients that kids need to learn and thrive. Before the pandemic, nearly 30 million children participated in the National School Lunch Program and nearly 15 million participated in the School Breakfast Program. Among participating students, 3 in 4 qualified for free and reduced-price meals.1 Yet millions of kids were missing out on free meals due to the program’s income eligibility guidelines and language and literacy barriers in the application process.2

Updated nutrition standards for school meals enacted in 2012 require more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less sodium and saturated fats. School meals have become far more nutritious since the changes took effect, with student participation higher in schools offering the healthiest meals.3 The healthier standards are also linked with lower rates of obesity among kids from families with low incomes.4

COVID Response
Relief measures passed by Congress in 2020 provided all students with access to school meals at no charge. More than 10 million additional children had access to free school meals under this policy, which also provided additional funding and flexibility to schools. Free school meals for all children has since expired, despite research showing that such policies reduce hunger, improve nutrition, help children succeed academically, support schools struggling financially, and eliminate school meal debt.5

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Fast Facts

National School Lunch Program
The District of Columbia has the highest percentage of children eligible for free or reduced price lunch, 76.4%.
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National School Lunch Program
3.3 million
Texas has the most children participating in the school lunch program, over 3.3 million
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School Breakfast Program
In New Jersey, 318,981 children participate in the School Breakfast Program
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SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) provides short-term financial support to individuals and families furthest from economic opportunity who struggle to afford food.

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