After-School Snacks and Meals

USDA provides after-school snacks to school children through either its National School Lunch Program (NSLP) or the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). USDA also provides after-school meals through the CACFP.

Through the NSLP, participating schools can offer nutritious snacks as part of after-care educational programs or enrichment activities. Snacks are subsidized on a sliding scale based on whether students qualify for free, reduced-price, or full-price meals. Schools in which at least 50 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price meals (i.e., come from families with household incomes below 185 percent of the Federal poverty line) are "area eligible" and subsidized at the free rate for all participating students.

Participation in the NSLP After-School Snack Program—authorized by Congress in 1998—is much smaller than participation in NSLP or the School Breakfast Program. The program provided an average of 1.2 million snacks daily in fiscal year (FY) 2019, with about 194 million snacks served that year. Approximately 92 percent of snacks were served in high-need area eligible schools.

In FY 2020, the program provided an average of 876 thousand snacks daily and 119 million total snacks. About 91 percent of snacks were served in high-need area eligible schools in FY 2020. Declines in number of snacks served are attributable to disruptions in the program’s operations in the second half of FY 2020 due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which forced the closure of schools and child care institutions beginning in March. In response to these disruptions and to meet rising food needs during the pandemic, USDA issued waivers allowing for flexibilities in the implementation of its child nutrition programs.

ERS examined the school and district-level characteristics associated with offering the NSLP After-School Snack Program using USDA’s School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study IV, conducted from January to June in 2010. Schools with a higher share of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches were more likely than other schools to offer the program. Those in high-poverty districts, urban areas, and elementary schools were more likely to offer the program—whereas high schools were less likely to offer it. To learn more, please see:

Through USDA's CACFP, after-school snacks can be served by third-party sponsors of community-based after-school enrichment programs in areas where at least 50 percent of the children are eligible for free or reduced-price meals. Beginning in 2000, some State CACFP programs were given the option to offer after-school meals through community programs in these at-risk areas. In December 2010, Congress extended this option to all States. Through this option, community programs may also serve breakfast or lunch on weekends, holidays, and school breaks—addressing gaps that may occur when at-risk children are not in school.

All figures are based on data available as of January 2021 and are subject to revision.

For the latest information on updates to the program during the COVID-19 pandemic see USDA, Food and Nutrition Service Responds to COVID-19.

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