National School Lunch Program

Providing access to balanced meals with nutrient-rich foods is critical to support the health, development, and academic potential of all students.

The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost, or free lunches to children each school day. The nutrition profile of school meals has significantly improved since 2012, with expanded access to fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grain menu items, and reduced sodium and saturated fat content of meals.

Which schools participate?

All 24 Maryland public school systems and 22 non-profit private schools and residential childcare institutions participate in the NSLP, providing over 900,000 students with access to nutritious lunches and snacks each day. 

More Info

How does it work?

The NSLP reimburses schools with federal dollars for meals that comply with the USDA nutrition standards. In Maryland, all public schools participate in the NSLP, as do many nonprofit private schools and residential childcare institutions. For more information, please contact your Local Education Agency's school nutrition office. 

How do children qualify for free or reduced-price meals?

  • Attending a Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) school: Children attending a CEP school receive school meals at no charge regardless of household income.

  • Attending a school that participates in Maryland Meals for Achievement (MMFA): Children attending a school participating in MMFA receive breakfast at no charge regardless of household income.
    See participating schools

  • Enrollment in Head Start or Even Start: Children enrolled in a Head Start or Even Start Program receive free school meals.

  • Categorical Eligibility: Children may be determined “categorically eligible” for free meals through participation in certain Federal assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Temporary Assistance Cash. Children who are homeless, migrants, runaways, or foster children also receive free school meals.

  • Direct Certification: Children receiving Medicaid may be directly certified for free or reduced-price school meals.

  • Income Eligibility: Children can also qualify for free school meals based on household income and family size. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 percent of the Federal poverty level are eligible for free meals. Households with incomes between 130 and 185 percent of the Federal poverty level are eligible in the reduced-price category but will receive free meals. All children determined as eligible in the reduced-price category receive free meals due to State funding under the Maryland Cares for Kids Act.
    View Income Eligibility Guidelines

Learn more about school lunch

  • NSLP Fact Sheet from USDA provides an overview of the program, eligibility details, nutrition requirements, and other information

  • NSLP Meal Pattern Chart outlines the age and grade-specific meal pattern and nutrient requirements

  • MyPlate at School Lunch Infographic that shows how School Lunch and MyPlate recommendations align

  • How School Lunch is Made and How You Can Help. This article answers many questions about school lunch, including what's in a school meal, who decides what's on the menu, and how students can have a voice in the process. It is connected to eighth-grade educational standards.

School Wellness Policy

A local school wellness policy is a written document that guides a local educational agency’s (LEA) efforts to establish a school environment that promotes students’ health, well-being, and ability to learn. 

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires LEAs participating in the National School Lunch Program and/or School Breakfast Program to have a wellness policy. 

Each LEAs’ wellness policy must include the following components: 

    1. Goals for nutrition education, nutrition promotion, physical activity, and other wellness activities
    2. Standards for School Meals and all other foods and beverages sold on the school campus during the school day. The standards must at least follow the USDA and Maryland Nutrition Standards for All Foods Sold in School. LEAs may impose more stringent requirements
    3. Standards for foods made available to students during the school day (birthdays, celebrations, rewards, incentives, etc.)
    4. Policies for food and beverage marketing
    5. Description of public involvement, public reporting, evaluation through a triennial assessment, and policy leadership

Learn more

Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child

Many LEAs in Maryland have been recognized as national leaders in their wellness policy work. Maryland has advocated and supported LEAs in developing wellness policies that include components of the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model, a framework developed by the Center for Disease Control to address health in schools.