National School Lunch Program

A component of the School Nutrition Programs

What is the National School Lunch Program?

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or no-cost lunches to children each school day. The program was established under the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act, signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1946. It offers parents an affordable, convenient way to ensure their children get the nutrition they need to learn and thrive.

How does the program work?

The NSLP is generally operated by public, non-profit private, and charter schools of high school grade or below. Public or non-profit private residential child care institutions may also participate. NSLP sponsors must serve lunches that meet Federal meal pattern requirements and offer the lunches at a free or reduced price to eligible children. Sponsors receive reimbursement for each reimbursable meal they serve. For current reimbursement rates, click here.

What are the nutrition requirements for NSLP lunches?

All reimbursable school lunches must meet Federal nutrition requirements. This includes specific standards for sodium, calories, and fats. Meals must also meet minimum portion size requirements for fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meat/meat alternates, and milk. Schools are allowed to develop their own menus as long as they are meeting Federal meal pattern criteria. Information about the NSLP nutrition standards, along with technical assistance and guidance materials can be found on the IDOE website.

Who administers NSLP?

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the program at the Federal level. In Indiana, NSLP is administered by the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and operates through agreements with school food authorities.

What types of foods do participating schools receive?

In addition to cash reimbursement, schools receive USDA Foods. Schools can also receive bonus USDA Foods as they are available from surplus agricultural stocks. The variety of USDA Foods schools receive depends on available quantities and market prices.


Allie Caito-Sipe

School Nutrition Specialist

View the IDOE NSLP webpage.