National School Lunch Program

Information about applying for and administering the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).


Program Information

What is the National School Lunch Program?

The National School Lunch Program is a federally funded program that assists schools and other agencies in providing nutritious lunches to children at reasonable prices. In addition to financial assistance, the program provides donated commodity foods to help reduce lunch program costs. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) External link opens in new window or tab. is responsible for overseeing the program nationally. In California, the program is administered by the California Department of Education (CDE), Nutrition Services Division.

What are the benefits of participating in the program?

For children, the National School Lunch Program provides a nutritious meal that contains one-third of the recommended dietary allowance of necessary nutrients. For parents, the program offers a convenient method of providing a nutritionally balanced lunch at the lowest possible price. For schools, the program enhances children’s learning abilities by contributing to their physical and mental well being. Studies have shown that children whose nutritional needs are met have fewer attendance and discipline problems and are more attentive in class.

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What type of lunch must be offered?

Please see our School Menu Planning Options page for meal pattern information and our Meal Patterns and Menu Planning page for complete information.

What is involved in operating a National School Lunch Program?

The lunch program must be open to all enrolled children. Free or reduced price meals must be provided to those children who qualify for such benefits according to specified family size and income standards. Agency staff must verify income on a percentage of those children receiving free or reduced price lunches to confirm their eligibility. Records must be kept to document that the lunch program follows all federal and state rules and regulations. Some of the records that must be kept are:

  • Meal production records and inventory records that document the amounts and types of food used.
  • The number of lunches served each day, by site and by category (free, reduced price, and full price).
  • Applications submitted by families for free and reduced price meals, by site, and a description of the follow-up actions taken to verify eligibility.
  • Records of income, expenditures, and contributions received.

The CDE periodically conducts a comprehensive review of each agency’s lunch program. Those agencies that annually receive $500,000 or more in federal funds (from all sources) must also be audited each year.

How do we get paid?

The National School Lunch Program is operated on a reimbursement basis, with agencies paid on the number of meals served. Agencies submit a monthly reimbursement claim form, available on the CDE fiscal Nutrition Services-School Nutrition Program Web page, to the CDE. After the Department reviews the form, the claim is sent to the State Controller’s Office, where the check is issued. Agencies typically receive reimbursement within four to six weeks after submitting the reimbursement claim form.

Agencies that participate in the program are reimbursed from two sources: the USDA and the State of California. State reimbursement is paid for all free and reduced price meals. Federal reimbursement is paid for all free, reduced price, and paid meals. Visit our Rates, Eligibility Scales, and Funding page for current rates.

What types of agencies may participate?

Public and private nonprofit schools are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program. Also eligible are public and private nonprofit licensed residential child care institutions (e.g., group homes, juvenile halls, orphanages).

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Where can we get assistance?

Nutritionists and program staff from the CDE are available to provide free technical assistance and guidance on how to operate a National School Lunch Program. Assistance is available on such topics as menu planning, proper food storage and preparation, record keeping and reporting, and clarifying federal and state regulations. Visit the School Nutrition Program (SNP) Primer External link opens in new window or tab. Web page for resources, materials, and technical assistance in the administration and operation of the SNP.

Whom do we contact?

Please see the county list of School Nutrition Programs (SNP) specialists in the Download Forms section of the Child Nutrition Information and Payment System (CNIPS). You may also contact the SNP Unit Secretary by phone at 916-322-1450 or 800-952-5609.

SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM (SCHOOL FOOD AND NUTRITION PROGRAM)

An accounting system and the necessary forms for its maintenance are prescribed by the StateBoard of Accounts. If these forms are properly maintained for your program, you will have little difficulty obtaining the information needed to prepare monthly federal reimbursement claims, quarterly financial reports, etc. Effective internal controls of cash receipts and meals served are built into the system by using one of several methods. The methods are the use of properly maintained and approved class rosters, prenumbered meal tickets, and cash registers.
Computerized cash systems could be used after submission and review by the State Board of Accounts. All cash register systems must be equipped with identification keys to indicate (1) paid student meals, (2) reduced price student meals, (3) free student meals, (4) adult meals, (5) a la carte sales and other additional categories the school corporation may wish to identify that may be required by the accounting system. The register must have locked-in audit tapes and non-resettable totals for each category. If any type of cash register system is used, the cashier is accountable for the cash registered on that machine when it is totaled and checked out.
If meal tickets are used, the tickets are issued to each ticket seller in pre numbered blocks. Each ticket seller is charged with the value of the tickets issued and must either turn in money or unused tickets to discharge his liability. A receipt must be issued to each ticket seller for the money deposited with the charter school. If a daily ticket is used, it is collected at the serving line; however, if the ticket is for multiple days, it is punched at the serving line as that day’s meal is served.
All methods to account for the cafeteria operation require that the person responsible for collecting and reporting the money received for meals be different from the person responsible for counting and reporting the number of meals served. Under no circumstances shall all duties be vested in a single individual. School Food Form SF-2, Daily Record of Cash Received, categorizes cash receipts on a daily basis and must be totaled monthly. School Food Form SF-2A, Daily Record of Meals/Milk Served, records daily the number of meals/milk served and must be totaled monthly and will be a source of information for preparation of the monthly claim for federal reimbursement. School Food Form SF-3, Cash Disbursements and Fund Balance, is used to record on a daily basis the disbursements of the School Food Service Program and together with the SF-2 acts as the source information for the calculation of the fund balance as shown on the SF-3. The disbursement categories Service Area Direction and Food Preparation and Dispensing are defined as: Service Area Direction. Activities pertaining to directing and managing the food service program for the school corporation. Food Preparation and Dispensing. Activities concerned with preparing and serving the food and beverages associated with the food service program. This includes operating kitchen equipment, preparing food, cooking, serving food, cleaning and storing dishes and kitchen and lunch room equipment.
17-2Forms SF-1, SF-2, SF-2A, and SF-3 shall be maintained on a daily basis and totaled monthly.
These monthly totals are a source of information for preparation of the claim for federal reimbursement, the quarterly financial report, etc. SCHOOL FOOD VERIFICATIONS OF ELIGIBILITY
We understand situations exist which could be a concern regarding charter schools test-checking the validity of information provided on the applications for free and reduced-priced meals. The results of test checks, are to be reported to the Indiana Department of Education in accordance with 7CFR 245.6(a). Some tests note a very high incidence of errors or inaccurate applications.
An error for purposes of the test-check is an approved application, attempted to be verified that cannot be verified by the program participants with requested income verification information (i.e.,paycheck stub, W-2, etc.). Program participants who have an application that cannot be verified are not always dropped from the free and reduced-price meal program and corrections in reporting and additional testing does not always occur. The State Board of Accounts is of the audit position charter schools shall request a written position from the Indiana Department of Education stating whether the corrective action taken was sufficient or if additional verifications need to be performed when high incidences of errors in test sample verifications are noted. The written communication to the Department of Education must also request a determination if any increases or decreases in funding will result to the charter school because of the concerns noted with the verification process.
SCHOOL FOOD SYSTEMS – PREPAID FOOD

Subsidiary records by student must be routinely reconciled to the cash balance and at month end.

The School Food Prescribed Forms and any approved computerized Forms will be required to be maintained in the following manner to accurately account for prepaid items. A column titled “Prepaid Food” is added to the Daily Record of Cash Received, Form SF-2, for recording prepaid amounts received which have not been identified as to revenue type, i.e., lunch, breakfast, etc. Amounts will be entered both in “Prepaid Food” and “Total Cash Received” for each day because cash has been received. Another column “Prepaid Food Applied” is also added to Form SF-2, which will show periodic (and monthly) activity whenever prepaid meals are identified (charged to breakfast, lunch, etc.). Amounts in “Prepaid Food Applied” must at all times equal for each day, the amounts charged to various categories, i.e., student lunch, adult breakfast, etc. that were not paid for in cash. Amounts will not be added to “Total Cash Received” because cash has been previously entered and recognized in “Prepaid Food”. You are merely transferring “Prepaid Food” to the applicable categories.
The final column added to SF-2 is “Prepaid Food Trust”, which is the running balance column which shows the difference between “Prepaid Food” and “Prepaid Food Applied”. The amounts in “Prepaid Food Trust” are deducted from the “Balance” column in SF-3 Form, School Food Service Cash Disbursements which then should equal the amount in the new SF-3 Column “Available Cash Balance.”
Amounts are not entered in “Total Cash Received” because “Prepaid Food Trust” is merely a balance column. Computerized systems must provide a list, by student, of cash balances which should sum to the “Prepaid Food Trust.”

Connection Between Children’s Emotions, Mental Skills and Eating Habits

Kids eating

Agricultural Research Service scientists are studying the relationship between eating behaviors and cognitive control as an avenue to address childhood obesity. ARS photo by Scott Bauer.

American children are gaining weight. Obesity now affects one in six children and adolescents in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s a major concern because extra pounds can increase risk for developing serious health problems in children, including diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

While strategies to reduce childhood obesity include improving diet and increasing exercise, USDA scientists are looking for ways to prevent behaviors in children that may lead to obesity. Nutritionist Kevin Laugero, who works at the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s (ARS) Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, California, recently investigated the relationship between obesity, unhealthy eating behaviors and decreased mental skills in 3- to 6-year-olds.

Laugero and his colleagues at the University of California-Davis discovered, for the first time, a connection between young children’s eating behaviors and experiencing an emotional state. The team also found that mental skills, referred to here as “cognitive control,” are significantly associated with overeating and emotions.

Cognitive control allows us to remember, plan, organize, make decisions, manage time, maintain emotional and self-control, and curb inappropriate behavior.

“At an early age, these skills are rapidly developing,” Laugero says. “If we’re able to understand the relationship between eating behaviors and cognitive control, we may be able to develop preventive methods for young children to help control obesity.”

Researchers conducted several experiments to examine the balance between emotional state, snacking and cognitive control in preschool children. Cognitive control was measured through computerized and hands-on tasks, parent questionnaires and standardized teacher reports.

“Our research suggests that, even at a young age, children with lower cognitive control skills may be more likely to engage in emotional-based overeating,” Laugero says. “On the other hand, our results suggest that children with higher cognitive control skills may be less likely to overeat.”

Laugero and his colleagues are considering further studies, using intervention strategies, to improve cognitive control during preschool years. They would then follow up with children to see whether intervention encourages healthier eating habits, including less emotional eating, later in life

Posted by Sandra Avant, Public Affairs Specialist, Agricultural Research Service, on March 22, 2016 at 11:00 AM

Child Nutrition Programs: Income Eligibility Guidelines

This notice announces the Department’s annual adjustments to the Income Eligibility Guidelines to be used in determining eligibility for free and reduced price meals and free milk for the period from July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. These guidelines are used by schools, institutions, and facilities participating in the National School Lunch Program (and Commodity School Program), School Breakfast Program, Special Milk Program for Children, Child and Adult Care Food Program and Summer Food Service Program. The annual adjustments are required by section 9 of the Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act. The guidelines are intended to direct benefits to those children most in need and are revised annually to account for changes in the Consumer Price Index.

Type:
Notice
Publication Date:
Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Child Nutrition Program Integrity

The Food and Nutrition Service administers several programs that provide healthy food to children including the National School Lunch Program, the School Breakfast Program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program, the Summer Food Service Program, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, and the Special Milk Program.  Administered by State agencies, each of these programs helps fight hunger and obesity by reimbursing organizations such as schools, child care centers, and after-school programs for providing healthy meals to children.

This rule proposes to codify several provisions of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 affecting the integrity of the Child Nutrition Programs, including the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Special Milk Program for Children, the School Breakfast Program, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and State Administrative Expense Funds.

The Department is proposing to establish criteria for assessments against State agencies and program operators who jeopardize the integrity of any Child Nutrition Program; establish procedures for termination and disqualification of entities in the SFSP; modify State agency site review requirements in the CACFP; establish State liability for reimbursements incurred as a result of a State’s failure to conduct timely hearings in the CACFP; establish criteria for increased State audit funding for CACFP; establish procedures to prohibit the participation of entities or individuals terminated from any of the Child Nutrition Programs; establish serious deficiency and termination procedures for unaffiliated sponsored centers in the CACFP; eliminate cost-reimbursement food service management company contracts in the NSLP; and establish procurement training requirements for State agency and school food authority staff in the NSLP. In addition, this rulemaking would make several operational changes to improve oversight of an institution’s financial management and would also include several technical corrections to the regulations. The proposed rule is intended to improve the integrity of all Child Nutrition Programs.

Type:
Proposed Rule
RIN:
0584-AE08
Publication Date:
Tuesday, March 29, 2016
Comment Period Date:
Tuesday, May 31, 2016