Children and students from low income families may receive a free meal at school from a number of government supported programs. There are several different options available as part of the Department of Agriculture School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. Some of the main resources are noted below as well as the state agency that accepts and processes applications.
Over 70,000 schools and educational institutions take part in the School Breakfast Program. It is available nationwide. Over 8 million children receive a heavily subsidized or free, hot breakfast per day. This first meal of the day is the most important and can be critical to getting a child in the correct state of mind and prepare them for the long school day ahead.
The School Breakfast Program, or SBP, is run by state agencies. Contact information is below. At the local county and city level it is the school district and their food authorities that operate the program.
The National School Lunch Program is another of the USDA programs available. This may be the most widely used resource, even more than the breakfasts referenced above. It is funded by the federal government and the assisted meal program is available in both nonprofit private and of course public schools. Lunches may also be served in so called residential child care institutions. It will provide low cost, or free, nutritionally balanced lunches to children and students. They can be served every day of the week.
There are income levels that need to be met by the family that is applying. They are based on certain federal government low income and poverty levels. The scale will take into consideration your entire income and also the number of members of your family. So those people with a larger household can have a higher income and still be able to receive a free lunch or breakfast.
In some parts of the country, free after school snacks are provided to children as well. Or students can even receive assistance during summer or holiday breaks. The program eligibility is usually based on the same income eligibility basis as the school meals. One key difference though is for those programs that operate in parts of the country in which 50 percent of students are eligible for free or reduced price meals. In these regions and states the school district can decide to serve all their students, regardless of income, snacks for free and still be reimbursed by the US Department of Agriculture.
Most states also offer the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program. This is run in partnership with the federal government and the Department of Defense. The DOD provides districts with surplus perishable items that are fresh, healthy, and ready to be served to children at lunch or a breakfast. It has been operating since the mid 1990s and has benefited hundreds of thousands of families since that time.
The types of food and meals served will vary by state, availability of resources, and other factors. For any of these USDA school and snack programs, in general states select entitlement foods to serve for their schools from a list of various groceries and goods purchased by USDA. This can include things like fresh fruits, vegetables, and perishable goods. Canned goods such as rice, pasta and more may be offered as well along with meats and frozen goods. Bonus items are provided only as they become available through agricultural surplus or government commodities. The variety of USDA foods that schools and educational facilities can get from the government depends on quantities available and market prices.
Another available option is the USDA Special Milk Program. This provides free dairy items, namely milk to children in schools and other day or childcare institutions who do not participate in Federal government meal service programs. The child can get the milk, at no cost to them, and the program reimburses the local schools for that expense.
Another service is for children in half-day pre-kindergarten and kindergarten programs. Once again, if the child or their family does not have access to any other resources or government benefits then they can look into the Special Milk Program.
While the focus is on supporting low income families, the application process for any of these government programs is flexible. What will happen is your school district or administrator will send out applications at the beginning of each year. If you don’t get one, and think you may qualify, then call. However, as added flexibility, someone may apply for any of the school meal programs at any time throughout the year. This can be easily done by sending a household application directly to your school. After you apply for this government benefit, the school or local education organization will review and process your application. They will be the ones that issue an eligibility determination and it is based on your income and number of household members.
Additional flexibility is available to those that are receiving help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP benefits. If you fall into this category then your child will automatically qualify for free school meals and snacks. There is nothing else that needs to be done.
The sites that process applications for any government supported student meal and snack programs are below. They can provide more information if needed.
Alabama, Child Nutrition Programs, Department of Education, telephone number is 334-242-1988
Alaska, Child Nutrition Programs, Department of Education and Early Development. Dial 907-465-8708 for information on snacks, lunches, and other food assistance.
Arizona, Health and Nutrition Services, Department of Education. Dial 800-352-4558 for details on assistance. This can include free lunch programs, vegetables, fruits, and even a breakfast.
Arkansas, Child Nutrition Unit, Department of Education, call 501-324-9502
Another agency to try is the Division of Child Care and Early Childhood Education, Department of Human Services, 800-482-5850
California, Nutrition Services Division, Department of Education, 800-952-5609
Colorado, Office of School Nutrition, Department of Education, 888-245-6092
Or residents can dial Prevention Services Division, Department of Public Health and Environment, 303-692-2330
Connecticut, Bureau of Health, Nutrition, Family Services & Adult Education, Department of Education, 860-807-2050
Delaware, School and Community Nutrition Programs, Department of Education, 302-735-4060
District of Columbia, Office of the State Superintendent of Education, 202-654-6118
Florida, Food, Nutrition and Wellness, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, main number is 800-504-6609
Two other agencies to try in Florida are the CACFP (Child), Bureau of Child Nutrition Programs, Department of Health (dial 850-245-4323) or the Florida, Department of Elder Affairs. Telephone 850-414-2337.
Georgia, Georgia School Nutrition Program, Georgia Department of Education, 404-651-6600. Or call Bright From the Start, Department of Early Care and Learning, 404-656-5957
Hawaii, Office of Hawaii Child Nutrition Programs, Department of Education, 808-587-3600
Idaho, Child Nutrition Programs, Department of Education, 800-432-4601
Illinois, Nutrition Programs, State Board of Education, 800-545-7892. Seniors can try calling the Illinois, Department on Aging, call 217-785-3356
Indiana, Office of School and Community Nutrition, Department of Education, call 800-537-1142
Iowa, Bureau of Nutrition, Health and Transportation Services, Department of Education, 515-281-4757
Kansas, Child Nutrition and Wellness, State Department of Education, dial 785-296-2276 for information on free breakfast and lunches for children and students.
Kentucky, Division of School and Community Nutrition, Department of Education, 502-564-5625
Louisiana, Division of Nutrition Support, Department of Education, 225-342-3769
Maine, Child Nutrition Services, Department of Education, telephone 207-624-6842
Another agency to try in Maine is the Office of Child and Family Services, Department of Health and Human Services, 207-624-7924
Maryland, School and Community Nutrition Programs Branch, Department of Education, 410-767-0199
Massachusetts, Nutrition, Health and Safety, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, dial 781-338-6479
Michigan, Office of School Support Services, Department of Education. The site processes applications for government resources, such as fruits, lunches, snacks, and more. 517-373-2313
Minnesota, Food and Nutrition Services, Department of Education, 800-366-8922
Mississippi, Office of Healthy Schools, Department of Education, 601-576-5000
Missouri, School Food Services, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 573-751-3526. Or dial the Bureau of Community Food and Nutrition Assistance Programs, Department of Health and Senior Services, 800-733-6251
Montana, Early Childhood Services Bureau, Department of Public Health and Human Services, 888-307-9333
Residents can also dial the Montana, School Nutrition Programs, Office of Public Instruction, phone 406-444-2501
Nebraska, Nutrition Services, Department of Education, 800-731-2233
Nevada, Office of Child Nutrition and School Health, Department of Education, 775-687-9200
New Hampshire, Bureau of Nutrition Programs and Services, Department of Education, telephone 603-271-3860
New Jersey, Division of Food and Nutrition, Department of Agriculture. Call 609-984-0692 for assistance, including food, luches, and breakfasts, for low income students and families.
New Mexico, Student Nutrition Bureau, Public Education Department, 505-827-1821. Or call the Family Nutrition Bureau, Children, Youth and Families Department, 505-827-9961
New York, Child Nutrition Program Administration, State Education Department, 518-473-8781 or call the Child and Adult Food Program, Department of Health, phone 800-942-3858.
North Carolina, Child Nutrition Section, Department of Public Instruction, dial 919-807-3507
Another organization to try for information on school lunches is the North Carolina, Special Nutrition Programs Unit, Department of Health and Human Services. Phone 919-707-5799.
North Dakota, Child Nutrition and Food Distribution Programs, Department of Public Instruction, 888-338-3663
Ohio, Office for Child Nutrition, Department of Education, 800-808-6325
Oklahoma, Child Nutrition Programs, Department of Education, telephone 405-521-3327
Oklahoma, Commodity Distribution Unit, Department of Human Services, dial 405-521-6472
Oregon, Child Nutrition and Food Distribution, Department of Education, phone 503-947-5888
Pennsylvania, Division of Food and Nutrition, Department of Education, main number 800-331-0129
Puerto Rico, Food and Nutrition Services, Department of Education, 787-773-6273
Rhode Island, Office of Statewide Efficiencies, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 401-222-4600
South Carolina, Office of Health and Nutrition, Department of Education, 803-734-8205. Or try calling the Office of School Food Services and Nutrition, Department of Social Services. Call 800-768-5700.
South Dakota, Child and Adult Nutrition Services, Department of Education, 605-773-3113
Tennessee, School Nutrition Services, Department of Education, 800-354-FOOD
Or try calling the Adult and Community Programs, Department of Human Services, 615-313-4749.
Texas, Food and Nutrition, Department of Agriculture, 877-TEX-MEAL
Utah, Child Nutrition Programs, State Office of Education, 801-538-7513
Vermont, Child Nutrition, Department of Education, 802-828-5153
Virgin Islands, Office of Special Nutrition Programs, Department of Education, 340-774-9373
Virginia, Office of School Nutrition Programs, Department of Education, 804-225-2074. Another agency to call is the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Food Programs, Department of Health, 877-618-7282.
Washington, Child Nutrition Services, State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, 877-204-6486
West Virginia, Office of Child Nutrition, Department of Education runs the federal govenrment lunch program. Dial 304-558-2708.
Wisconsin, Community Nutrition Team, Department of Public Instruction, telephone 608-267-9123
Wyoming, Health, Safety & Nutrition Division, Department of Education, 307-777-6263
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