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Measuring USDA’s National School Lunch Program

This week is National School Lunch Week and USDA’s Economic Research Service is out with new data about the programs’ success.

USDA’s National School Lunch Program served 4.9 billion lunches in fiscal year 2022, and about 228.9 billion lunches since 1971. Any student in a participating school can get a National School Lunch Program lunch. Typically, students may be eligible for either a free, reduced-price, or full-price lunch, depending on their household’s income. Compared with previous years, a higher share of the lunches were served for free or at a reduced price in fiscal years 2020 through 2022. This was in large part because of USDA waivers during the COVID-19 pandemic allowing for meals to be provided free of charge to all students.

The onset of the pandemic interrupted the operations of many schools, disrupting the provision of lunches through the NSLP. In response, USDA allowed schools to serve free meals through the Summer Food Service Program or the Seamless Summer Option.

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