Learn How to Get Free Breakfast and Lunch for School-Aged Children

The team at FamilyNutritionInfo.com understands that there are life scenarios that make it difficult for parents to provide for their children, and food is an especially large and essential cost for child development and health. As many teachers know, teaching and managing a classroom full of young students is difficult, especially if those children are suffering from the effects of poor nutrition and food availability. Fortunately, federal programs provide food assistance for children and strive to provide balanced and filling meals. Federal guidelines, regulations and assistance help states implement certain programs that provide for children in low-income districts and households. Along with food guidelines and monetary reimbursement, many federal programs provide schools with resources that encourage healthy eating and an active lifestyle.

Learn About Food Service Programs

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides a variety of food service programs to provide for children in low-income households. The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and the School Breakfast Program (SBP) are subject to federal dietary guidelines to ensure balanced and calorie-sufficient meals based on grade range. The USDA purchases food and provides states with a predetermined list of eligible items, but food choices are subject to availability and pricing.

Determined by program authorities in the school, food preparation and specific foods vary from institution to institution. Federal programs stress the importance of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthier lean proteins and low-fat dairy products.

Those schools that do not take part in food assistance programs provided by the USDA may participate in the Special Milk Program (SMP), which offers milk to entitled children. Free meal eligibility determines eligibility for free milk, and households must apply every school year to receive SMP services.

Elementary schools with a high number of students eligible for free and reduced meals may participate in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program to encourage and increase the consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits in young children’s diets. Schools receive a per-student budget for the year and may purchase the products as they would NSLP and SBP foods. They can even purchase through a local farm, within legal guidelines and regulations.

The team at FamilyNutritionInfo.com knows that learning and development do not end at the afternoon dismissal bell and urges children to take advantage of any afterschool food programs. The Afterschool Snack Service (a subset of the NSLP) continues to provide food service to eligible districts and students who are involved in approved athletic and academic activities after school. Additionally, the Child and Adult Care Food Program provides afterschool food services to children in low-income areas at afterschool centers for at-risk students.

Seamless Summer Option and the Summer Food Service Program are programs that provide food for eligible students in low-income districts at schools and other approved sites for maximum accessibility during the summer months. Schools, parks, camps, migrant sites and other sites are potential food service resource locations, but they must meet federal requirements to participate. The summer food options are subject to the same regulations as school-year food assistance to ensure quality and balance in the students’ diets. The team at FamilyNutritionInfo.com urges families to take advantage of summer programs when possible, as these resources provide food, healthy tips and a social aspect that children will enjoy.

Who meets requirements for free breakfast and lunch?

In order to receive free breakfast and lunch for school-aged children, households must apply and be approved by the school or school district. Household assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) provide automatic free school breakfast and lunch for school-aged children in the household. The team at FamilyNutritionInfo.com encourages families receiving government assistance to inquire with their school district about the free or reduced meal programs available to them. Families receiving unemployment benefits are not automatically eligible for meal assistance but should still apply, as school-aged children may be eligible for reduced meals, even if they are not eligible for free lunch or breakfast.

Learn About the Application Process

The child’s school will provide the application for free or reduced-cost meals at the beginning of every year, but families may apply at any point if their circumstances change. Parents and guardians must fill out these applications every school year for children to continue receiving meal assistance. Also, while children pre-approved for free meals do not need to apply for food services, parents and guardians should check with their district to confirm pre-approval.

The application requires providing the names and grades of the children in the household, as well as information regarding their living situation. Even if not all of the children are of school age or related to the applicant, or if multiple children are applying for free or reduced meals, applicants only need to fill out one form.

The application will also ask for one case number for a household member that is receiving benefits from SNAP, TANF or the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR). Even if multiple household members participate in any of the listed programs, the application only requires one case number.

In addition, applicants must provide income information for all members of the household, including children. Although not a complete listing, work earnings, Social Security benefits and income in the form of outside spending money or a private pension trust fund all count as sources of income for children and adults alike. The application also requires information on pay frequency for both adult and child income. The team at FamilyNutritionInfo.com urges families to fill out all applicable information before sending the application to the school or school district to prevent a processing delay.