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. 

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.

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

The cost of school lunch for students is determined by each school district. Some students may qualify for free and reduced-priced meals based on family income eligibility. Children from families with incomes at or below 130 - 185% of the poverty level may receive meals at a free or reduced price. Students in families receiving Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) and/or food stamp benefits are eligible for free lunches. 

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.