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School Breakfast, Lunch, and More

Numerous studies have shown that hungry children cannot learn effectively and that even mild malnutrition can impair physical and cognitive growth. Breakfast, lunch and snacks served at or after school can provide children the food they need for optimal health and learning. WIC Can Help families with school-age children (including students entering kindergarten) benefit from school meal programs.

What Local Agencies Can Do:

  1. Find out what meal programs your local school district offers and how families apply.
  2. Share school meal program information with WIC families.
  3. Offer to assist schools with meal program outreach.
  4. Advocate for school breakfast programs in communities where the program is not yet offered or where participation is low.

School Lunch

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted program that provided nearly 5 billion nutritionally balanced, low‐cost or free lunches in 2019. Research shows that NSLP meals are a healthy choice that students like, often just as nutritious as home-packed lunches. If that’s not the case in your school district, consider these Top Ten Tips for Tackling School Food Reform.

Who’s Eligible?

All children, regardless of their citizenship status, may receive a school lunch. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the poverty level are eligible for free meals. Those with slightly higher incomes (130 to 185 percent of poverty level) are eligible for reduced‐price meals. Children in families receiving unemployment compensation may also be eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Check this year’s income eligibility guidelines, and remember that a pregnant woman counts as two household members.

Children in CalFresh households are automatically eligible for free meals and do not need to submit a separate application. These families should receive a letter from the school confirming that their children can eat school meals for free.

How to Apply?

Schools send school meal applications to students’ homes at the beginning of each school year, usually in several languages other than English. However, families may apply for school meals at any time during the school year by requesting a household application from the school and submitting it directly to the school. Each school district has their own form that families must use.

School Breakfast

The National School Breakfast Program (SBP) is a federally assisted program that provided nearly 2.4 billion nutritionally balanced, low‐cost or free breakfasts in 2018. Eligibility guidelines and application processes for breakfast are the same as for school lunch, yet only half of eligible students who eat school lunch also eat school breakfast.

If a local school does not offer breakfast, the Breakfast After the Bell and other efforts provide tools to help community members (including WIC agencies and families) advocate for a breakfast program. School breakfast reduces chronic absenteeism – which disproportionately affects students of color, low-income students, and other vulnerable student groups – and supports student success.

After-School Snacks

Through the NSLP, schools can offer nutritious snacks to children participating in qualifying after-school care programs. Families with children enrolled in such programs do not need to apply for the snack program. However, if snacks are not offered they can advocate for the after-school program to participate in at least one reimbursable snack program