Federal Free and Reduced Meal Programs

Having adequate food and good nutrition is important for everyone, but it’s particularly important for children. When children are hungry at school, it makes it harder for them to succeed. Studies show that food insecurity is associated with poor attendance and lower academic achievement.[i]


The federal government has many food programs that help people of all ages receive adequate nutrition, but several programs are geared specifically to children. Public schools, non-profit private schools, and residential child-care institutions are eligible to participate in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. These programs offer healthy meal options to children and aim to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains served at the school.


The meal programs are offered to all children that attend participating schools, but some are eligible to receive meals at a reduced cost or for free. Eligibility for free or reduced lunch is based on a household’s income[ii].


The federal income eligibility guidelines for July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017 are listed below:

1 15,444 21,978 1,287 1,832
2 20,826 29,637 1,736 2,470
3 26,208 37 296 2,184 3,108
4 31,590 44,955 2,633 3,747
5 36,972 52,614 3,081 4,385
6 42,354 60,273 3,530 5,023
7 47,749 67,951 3,980 5,663
8 53,157 75,647 4,430 6,304

In addition to the income eligibility guidelines, children automatically qualify for free meals if they fall into one of the following categories:

  • Foster children who are under the legal responsibility of a foster care agency or court.
  • Children participating in a federally funded Head Start program.
  • Children who meet the definition of homeless, runaway, or migrant.
  • Children in households that receive Food and Nutrition Services (FNS, formerly Food Stamps) or Cash Assistance (CA).


Would you like to find out if you’re eligible for FNS? The More In My Basket team is available to answer questions, conduct eligibility screenings, and provide assistance with completing the application. Please call 1-855-240-1451 (English) or 1-888-382-7105 (Spanish) Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm, to speak with a team member.


[i] Bell, R. (2013). Hungry children at higher risk of poor school performance. Michigan State University Extension. Accessed August 8, 2016 from: http://msue.anr.msu.edu/news/hungry_children_at_higher_risk_of_poor_school_performance

[ii] News Release 2016-17: Eligibility for Free or Reduced Meals in the National School Lunch Program Announced. Public Schools of North Carolina. Accessed August 8, 2016 from: http://www.dpi.state.nc.us/newsroom/news/2016-17/20160729-01