The National School Lunch Program is a federally funded program which 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 is responsible for overseeing the program nationally. In Iowa, the program is administered by the Iowa Department of Education, Bureau of Nutrition Programs and Health Services. For more information, connect to the USDA site.

National School Lunch Program Fact Sheet  
National School Lunch Meal Pattern Chart

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.

What is involved in daily operations of the 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 household size and income standards. Agency staff must verify income on a percentage of those 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.

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). Those agencies that annually receive $750,000 or more in federal funds (from all sources) must be audited each year.


Agencies that participate in the program are reimbursed from two sources: the United States Department of Agriculture and the State of Iowa. State reimbursement is paid for all meals until allocated funds are depleted. Federal reimbursement is paid for all meals served and claimed according to regulations. The National School Lunch Program is operated on a reimbursement basis, with agencies reimbursed on the number of meals served by eligibility type.

Certification $0.08 for Meal Program

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) requires the additional 8 cents per lunch reimbursement be provided to school food authorities (SFAs) certified by a State agency to be in compliance with the meal pattern requirements. The additional 8 cents per lunch is intended to assist SFAs in meeting the meal pattern requirement and became available October 1, 2012, to SFAs certified by the State agency to be in compliance. The certification process for the 8 cents performance-based reimbursement will take place during the SFAs Administrative Review. SFAs are required to complete the USDA menu certification worksheets to show they meet all of the daily and weekly meal pattern requirements.  

The State Agency has discretion to turn off the performance-based reimbursement ($0.08 Reimbursement) if severe non-compliance is determined.

Visit the USDA’s School Meals Certification of Compliance webpage for the menu certification worksheets and instructions.