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How to Get Free School Meals

How to Get Free School Meals

By choosing to get free school meals through the National School Lunch Program, low income families can provide regular meals for their child. This makes it possible for the child to focus on continuing their education. Depending on your income, these can be free or reduced price school meals!


In this article, we’ll be covering what makes free school meals so important as well as how you can access those benefits!  Read on to learn more.

Why are Free School Meals Important?

Free school meals are important for two major reasons: overall health and access to little-known educational opportunities.

Physical and Mental Health

This first reason here is obvious. As every child grows, their body takes up an enormous amount of energy.  Even if you look past the high metabolism nearly every child seems blessed with, the act of increasing muscle mass and simply growing taller requires tons of calories and nutrients!  Not only does your child’s growing body require specific nutrients and energy, but their mind requires a nutritionally balanced diet in order to stay healthy and happy.

There’s even a direct link between your physical health and your mental health! Studies have shown that a balanced diet is a crucial part of maintaining a happy, healthy mood.  In some cases, dietary supplements were even enough to lower rates of anxiety and depression! 


In order to maintain their physical and mental health, children generally need diets high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.  As much as every parent wants to be able to provide those foods, time and cost frequently set up roadblocks.  By taking advantage of free school meals, you’ll be better able to guarantee that for at least ten meals a week, your child receives the nutrition they need for both body and mind!

Educational Opportunities

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many schools, counties, and local charities gathered together to ensure that no one went hungry.  While this was an amazing and generous act, it led to many parents forgetting to sign up for free and reduced school meals.  

Not many people know this, but there are actually perks to receiving free school meals besides just the food itself!

As your child begins pursuing college, they’ll find that many tests or early college credits come with a substantial fee.  In many cases, this fee can be automatically waived or reduced if the student can show evidence that they participate in free school meals programs!

By taking part in the National School Lunch Program, students qualify for:

  • Free ACT tests
  • Increased scholarship opportunities
  • Free or affordable college credits

It’s important to note that while many states have their own free school meals programs, many of these opportunities are exclusive to the National School Lunch Program.  To learn more about the benefits associated with this program, check out our article “How to Apply for Free and Reduced School Meals.”

Free School Meals Near Me

If you live in a smaller, less populated community, you may find yourself thinking that you don’t qualify for some of these programs.  Never fear!  No matter where you live within the United States, there’s a strong likelihood that you can apply to take advantage of free school meals. 


The National School Lunch Program

Originally signed into law by President Harry Truman in 1946, the National School Lunch Program is a federally assisted meal program that operates all over our country.  This program provides free and reduced-price school meals to all children who live in a participating state! Every meal served under the National School Lunch Program meets high nutritional standards, meaning you can rest assured that your child is receiving the nutrition they need. 

Not only will you be able to help your child through this program, but you’ll also be able to help your school!

Through the National School Lunch Program, schools are able to receive the training they need to help all students, even those not signed-up for the program.  They’ll also qualify for additional growing programs like the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and the Farm to School initiative.

Free School Meals by State

Though there shouldn’t ever be a stigma around taking advantage of opportunities that have been given to you, let’s face it: Kids can be mean.  For this reason, many states have begun implementing their own free school meals programs, many of which have absolutely no income requirements!

For example, in Vermont every child qualifies for Universal School Meals.  Through this opportunity, the state has been able to ensure that every child has the same opportunity, regardless of whether or not their parents choose to enroll them in the National School Lunch Program.

Every state is different.  For example, in Hawaii, all students are entitled to completely free meals within the first twenty-one days of the school year.  In many other states, schools with a certain percentage of students who receive free lunch provide breakfast to the full student body.  The best way to see what opportunities are available near you is to investigate!  


Check out this handy chart to find out what specific opportunities are available to you and your family.   

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By signing up for programs like the National School Lunch Program, you make it easier for kids and teachers to receive the vital nutritional education they need.

Can I Get Free School Meals?

Many people are discouraged from applying to the National School Lunch Program because they think they may not qualify.  In truth, qualifying for this program is likely far easier than you think!  

Under the National School Lunch Program, you don’t have to live in poverty in order to receive these benefits.  You simply need to show that your family could benefit from the added help.

For example, no matter where in the country you live, if you are a family of three making 40,000 dollars a year or less, you qualify for reduced-price meals.  If a family of the same size makes 34,000 per year or less, they actually receive their school meals completely free!  Check out this chart to see if your family qualifies! 

As of 2016, over thirty million children were able to receive free school meals. 

How Do Free School Meals Work?

While it’s not mandatory that every state participates in the National School Lunch Program, if your state does, the application process is incredibly easy.  Many schools even encourage participation in this program by requiring every family to apply, just on the off chance they are able to qualify!

To apply for free school meals, simply see your school’s front office staff and fill out a form.  These forms differ, but most require proof of income. Save yourself time by being prepared with a few recent pay stubs or a tax form from the previous year. Once the form is filled out and returned to the school’s office, your work is done!

For every free meal provided, the school receives full reimbursement for that meal from the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA.  By taking part in this program, you’re able to feed your child a nutritionally sound meal without disadvantaging your school in any way!


Because of the National School Lunch Program, parents across the country can take comfort in the fact that their child is well fed while at school.  In addition, by providing your child with free school meals you’re giving them opportunities for attentive learning, college placement, and educational progression. 

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