USDA’s National School Lunch Program has served about 229 billion meals since 1971

A combined bar chart and line graph showing the total lunches served by the National School Lunch Program and the percent free or reduced-price from fiscal years 1971 to 2022.

The USDA’s National School Lunch Program (NSLP) 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 an NSLP 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 Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic allowing for meals to be provided free of charge to all students. These waivers expired in June 2022. The onset of the pandemic in March 2020 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 NSLP’s Seamless Summer Option, while the temporary Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program reimbursed eligible families for the value of school meals missed because of these disruptions. This chart appears on the USDA, Economic Research Service’s National School Lunch Program page within the Child Nutrition Programs topic page.

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