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LAW Home > Legal Topics > Government Aid and Services > Food - Hunger/Nutrition > School Breakfast and School Lunch

School Nutrition Programs: Your Child Could Be Eligible


Every day, schools offer healthy meals to students through the school nutrition programs. The National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program are government-funded meals programs. All meals must meet good nutritional standards. Many schools offer both breakfast and lunch.

How do the programs work?

  • Meals are available to all students.
  • Some children pay the advertised price, but low- and moderate-income children qualify for free or reduced-price meals.
  • Children who qualify for free or reduced-price meals are not publicly identified in any way.

Why eat school meals?

  • School meals help family food budgets to go further.
  • Healthy meals and snacks are provided from breakfast to the end of the school day.
  • School meals are proven to help children do better in school.

How does a child qualify?

A few schools in New Jersey provide meals to all students automatically, but most do not.  If your child’s school does not, then there are two ways to qualify:

  1. If a family currently receives food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or participates in the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR), the child is eligible for free school meals. Migrant, homeless, or runaway children also qualify. Most students in this category should be automatically enrolled.
  2. If a household’s total income is below certain amounts, a child can eat free or at a very reduced price. The school determines who qualifies based on a completed application.
  3. There are no citizenship requirements and families receiving school meals assistance will not have their immigration status affected.

Enrolling in the school meals program can also qualify a family for other benefits, like Summer EBT benefits.

Families with income up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Limit should apply.


Income Eligibility Guidelines

Household Size


Free Meals
Maximum Family Income





































For each add'l family member, add

+ $10,280

+ 857

+ 198


How and when can I apply?

Many school districts also have applications online for school meals, which can be found on the official website of your local school district or child’s school website. A student’s parent or guardian can apply for school meals any time of the year by directly obtaining and submitting a school meal application at the child’s school, school district office, or online. Applications and requirements vary by school and district. Applications can be made at any time during the school year. Please contact your child’s school or district to obtain the correct school meal application, as well with any questions about how to fill out the application.

An application may not be required at all, depending on what other public benefits a family receives. Also, applications are not needed for migrant, homeless, and runaway children. Contact your child’s school for more information. Applications must be signed by the child’s parent or guardian and must include either a Social Security number or a check mark in the box marked “none” on the application. Not having a Social Security number will not affect whether a family qualifies and will be kept private.

Only one application is required each year, even if income changes. Only one application is required for each family, not one for each child. Once the application is returned to the school, the family should be contacted within 10 days.

If a family doesn’t qualify now, they can apply again later if their income goes down during the year, if they start getting food stamps or other benefits, or if family size increases.

Immigration or citizenship status of a parent, guardian, or child is not considered for school meal eligibility. You will not need to provide immigration or citizenship documentation when applying. Children receiving free school meals will not affect the immigration status of anyone in the family.