History of School Lunch

National School Lunch Program (NSLP)

President Harry S. Truman signed the National School Lunch Act on June 4, 1946. Though school foodservice began long before 1946, the Act authorized the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). The legislation came in response to claims that many American men had been rejected for World War II military service because of diet-related health problems. The federally assisted meal program was established as “a measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities.” 
The National School Lunch Act has since been amended numerous times. Public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions may participate in the NSLP. This program also offers afterschool snacks in sites that meet eligibility requirements. The NSLP is celebrated each year during National School Lunch Week.

School Breakfast Program (SBP)
On October 11, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Child Nutrition Act of 1966. The Act established the School Breakfast Program (SBP). The SBP is a federally assisted meal program that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free breakfasts to children in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. President Johnson remarked during the signing of the Child Nutrition Act of 1966, “good nutrition is essential to good learning.” Appropriately, this Act was signed during National School Lunch Week. The SBP is celebrated annually during National School Breakfast Week.

Special Milk Program (SMP)
The Child Nutrition Act of 1966 also authorized the Special Milk Program (SMP). The SMP provides milk free of charge or at a low cost to children in schools and child care institutions that do not participate in other Federal child nutrition meal service programs. The federally assisted program reimburses schools for the milk they serve.

Summer Food Service Program (SFSP)
In 1968, the Special Food Service Program for Children was created as a three-year pilot. The pilot, which had two components: child care and summer, provided grants to states to assist in providing meals to children when school was not in session. In 1975 the two components were separated and authorized as the Child Care Food Program and Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The following groups may be eligible to participate in SFSP:

  • Public or private nonprofit schools
  • Units of local, municipal, county, tribal, or State government
  • Private nonprofit organizations
  • Public or private nonprofit camps
  • Public or private nonprofit universities or colleges

The SFSP is the single largest Federal resource available for local sponsors who want to combine a feeding program with a summer activity program.

Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)
After an extension of the 1968 Special Food Service Program for Children’s three-year pilot, the Child Care Food Program was authorized in 1975. In 1978 it became a permanent program. The name was officially changed to the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) in 1989 to reflect the adult component of this program. Child care centers, day care homes, homeless shelters, and adult day care centers may be eligible to participate in the CACFP.

Legislative History Highlights
These highlights are a good primer for anyone interested in child nutrition programs. SNA also created "Legislative History of Child Nutrition Programs," a brochure that can be reproduced and shared.

Program Data
The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Division of the United States Department of Agriculture administers the Child Nutrition Programs mentioned above. FNS also governs the

  • Food Stamp Program
  • Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC)
  • Food Distribution Program

Participation data for programs are available both at the national and state level. Data is collected and presented monthly and annually for the Child Nutrition Programs. 

Program Data - Food and Nutrition Service

More Than Just Lunch


School Meal Trends & Stats


Professional Standards